The BMW Direct initiative, which is currently being trialled with a number of anonymous UK fleet customers, is the result of nine months of intensive development work to build a system that would allow corporate customers to configure and order fleet cars online.
If successful, the pilot project, which uses the Internet to give customers direct access to the manufacturer, will be rolled out across the rest of the group's operations. The pilot phase is set to close by the end of the year, when the service will go live to customers.
According to Richard Downes, e-commerce and customer relationship manager at BMW UK, one of the main drivers behind the initiative was a move to stave off the competition.
"The original idea was a defensive move against the competition, at a time when everyone believed the Internet was going to sweep all before it and make established sales methods obsolete," he said.
Potential threats at the time included outfits such as Virgin and OneSwoop. "We have a lot of major international customers, so we wanted to have a credible alternative," said Downes.
The move was also a response to customer demand for direct contact with BMW, he added.
The system allows business customers to configure their own vehicle, which is then checked, authorised and dispatched electronically by the fleet manager.
"Each company has different sign-off and authorisation procedures and this acts as a reporting tool for the fleet managers. Using this, they can track employee activity, thereby reducing the amount of administration involved in getting a car. This then streamlines the process and reduces costs," said Downes.