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Fiat*: driving car sales online
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Thanks to Intel® Architecture-based servers, Windows* 2000 and Microsoft's CarPoint* application platform, one of the world's largest auto manufacturers needs just three months to drive a business-to-consumer (B2C) solution that keeps car buyers and dealers happy.

Company Profile
Fiat* was founded in Turin, Italy, in 1899, and in the 101 years since, has produced more than 70 million vehicles. It is one of Italy's largest companies and one of the world's leading automobile manufacturers.

Fiat's Automobile Sector sells cars under the Fiat, Lancia* and Alfa Romeo* brands, and light commercial vehicles under the Fiat brand. Western Europe accounted for 70% of its sales in 1998, but the company eventually expects to sell 50% of its output into the emerging markets of Poland, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Turkey, India and China.

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Fiat Auto sells around 2.5 million vehicles worldwide annually and frequently takes home Car of the Year honors. It earned honors for the Fiat Punto* in 1995, the Fiat Bravo-Brava* in 1996, and the Alfa Romeo* 156 in 1998. Fiat Auto is renovating its product line and will introduce four new models a year until 2002.

Strengthening Relations with Dealers, Customers
When manufacturers can easily enter into direct relationships with customers over the Internet, what becomes of the reseller or channel partner?

Some manufacturers cut the channel out of the picture and concentrate on direct sales. Fiat wanted an e-Business solution that would serve the needs of dealers as well as customers. It wanted to provide better support and additional business opportunities for its channel, while giving customers fast, easy access to information like vehicle models, optional features and prices.

Fiat Auto is a Web pioneer, using the Internet since 1995 to communicate with the market. But company officials recognized that consumer attitudes were changing and new marketing models emerging. In 1999, they looked at exploiting the Internet more fully and deploying e-Business as a new sales channel. They wanted an approach that would increase customer satisfaction through new and better pre- and post-sales services, but also preserve the special relationship that exists between customers and dealers.

Fiat Auto came up with an Online Buying Service (OBS). Customers at the site can browse online catalogs; review the relative costs of different configurations; select the car of their choice; and configure specifications like color, engine size, and upholstery fabric. They can make their buying decisions in a simple, convenient manner, without feeling any pressure.

For the actual purchase, most customers prefer the one-to-one relationship with a local dealer, where they can get help with finance, insurance and other tasks that may require closer consultation. Once customers have made their choices, the system calculates the buying price and sets an appointment with the nearest dealer to close the sale. This data is then passed to the dealer, who physically handles the sale.

Far from creating tension between Fiat and its channel, this arrangement strengthens the business relationship. In addition, by giving Fiat direct contact with customers, the site helps the company keep abreast of changes in market demand and customer preferences and gauge market response to its products. In doing so, it helps Fiat continue at the leading edge of the automotive industry.

And as Fiat increases its sales into emerging economies, the worldwide reach of its e-Business solution will prove pivotal in serving a geographically distributed base of customers and dealers.

Powered by Intel® Pentium® III Xeon" Processors and Windows* 2000

Fiat Auto's IT department developed the system specifications with a goal of delivering superlative responsiveness and availability to the end user. Cost control and integration with Fiat Auto legacy systems were also key.

The OBS project team took responsibility for implementing the business-to-consumer (B2C) commerce activities. One of its first decisions was whether to develop a system from scratch or use one already on the market. They decided on the latter option to make the most of existing know-how and speed time to market.

After analyzing alternatives, Fiat Auto reached an agreement with Microsoft* to become the first company in Europe to purchase the CarPoint* application platform, a lead-referral service and custom car buying platform.

CarPoint is available on the Intel® Architecture, which Fiat was attracted to because of its outstanding price/performance ratio. The company assembled a Web farm of powerful, 4-way Intel® Pentium® III Xeon" processor-based servers running Windows* 2000. On the back-end, additional 4-way Intel Architecture-based clusters run the SQL Server* database.

Fiat's Intel Architecture-based servers provide maximum software choice plus ample scalability to keep up with rising user loads. Fiat can expand its server farms by adding more systems; by using larger, 8-way platforms; or by employing servers based on the new Intel® Itanium® processor.

Load balancing with the Intel Architecture makes it possible to distribute processing and communications activity in a way that avoids overwhelming any single device and causing a perceptible performance delay. To ensure that the system remains responsive despite unpredictable usage spikes, Fiat uses multiple levels of load balancing, including:

  • User segmentation by marketeach country has its own application in its specific language.
  • Application replication within a marketif the number of users is high enough that a single server or set of application servers cannot handle them, then one or more servers are added to support the workload.
  • Application partitioning within the Windows 2000 Load Balancing Service.

Taking advantage of the openness of the Intel e-Business network and the range of vendors with expertise on the Intel Architecture, Fiat selected several companies to assist with developing its new system. It selected ITS as a hosting partner based on the company's complete and competitive offering and its ability to integrate with Fiat Auto legacy systems.

It chose Etnoteam* to integrate the new platform with their legacy systems. Etnoteam won the contract because of its experience as a horizontal integrator and the in-depth knowledge of Fiat Auto's back-end systems it had gained on previous projects.

The implementation phase was conducted very quickly. The CarPoint platform was acquired in March 2000, development started in April, and the Buy service went online on July 8, 2000. In September, the Buy and Buy services went online in Italy, followed by the UK in October, and the Buy service in November. The latter site supports the sales of certified used cars from Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia* dealers in the U.S.


Customers can easily get the information they need. Dealers have a more efficient sales process with a greater number of potential, qualified customers. And Fiat Auto* solidifies its business relationships with customers and resellers across the world.
Fueling Growth, Simplifying Sales
The OBS gives Fiat Auto a state-of-the-art opportunity referral system with the potential to fuel huge business growth and dramatically simplify the purchase process. Customers can easily get the information they need. Dealers have a more efficient sales process with a greater number of potential, qualified customers. And Fiat Auto increases its visibility and solidifies its business relationships with customers and resellers across the world.

Such is the power of e-Business. And with its Intel Architecture-based platforms, Fiat is equipped to take full advantage of that power. Fiat plans to continue investing in the system, expanding and enhancing it to keep the company at the head of the automotive sales pack.

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Solution Summary

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