BRESCIA, Italy -- As Internet-driven supply and manufacturing processes become more sophisticated, General Motors Corp. believes that within three years as many as 80 percent of its new cars and trucks could be custom-ordered by consumers.
Newly installed Chief Executive G. Richard Wagoner is making clear he plans to lean heavily on the Internet and information technology to turn the old-economy behemoth into a nimble 21st century manufacturer able to respond to customers' individual desires.
''Our vision is to reestablish leadership in our core automotive business globally and leverage our size and expertise to create new business opportunities around our customer base,'' Wagoner told about 70 journalists and financial analysts Thursday at the end of a three-day seminar on GM's future.
With coming features such as e-mail capability and digital radio by satellite, automotive customers will be increasingly demanding about what features they desire, according to GM executives who made presentations here.
Because of such customer demands -- not to mention the high costs of keeping inventories of unsold off-the-shelf vehicles -- slashing order-to-delivery time has long been a holy grail for the industry.
''Cutting production time can take $500 to $1,000 out of each vehicle, and that's enormous savings when automakers are trying to squeeze even $10 or $20 out of each car's costs,'' said Saul Rubin, director of equity research at UBS Warburg in New York.
GM's long-term goal has been to produce a three-day car -- that is, rolling the completed vehicle off the assembly line three days after receiving an internal order for it. Such lead times are closer to two weeks, at best, today.
But after consulting consumers and analyzing data with sociologists, GM unexpectedly found that ''the exact vehicle of choice, reliably delivered in a reasonable time frame, is more important than a 'three-day vehicle,' '' said Harold Kutner, vice president for North American production. ''Customization could be as high as 80 percent in 2003.''
To reach that e-target, GM is spending $3.2 billion a year on information technology and has invested $1.6 billion on e-commerce applications.
The best-known investment so far is OnStar, a wireless emergency communications system that also allows navigation; instant location; entertainment services, including theater and restaurant reservations; and conveniences such as unlocking cars by satellite. GM says it will have 1 million OnStar subscribers by the end of the year, 4 million by 2003.
For now, Wagoner said, ''absolutely we want to hang onto OnStar.''
''It couldn't be anywhere without GM and Hughes,'' he said, referring to the automaker's satellite-operating electronics subsidiary. ''In three years, though, I don't know if I would give the same answer.''
Other major e-business investments include Covisint, the massive online auto-parts exchange that GM is developing with Big 3 rivals Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler and other partners. The venture is expected to host up to $500 billion in business transactions a year.
GM is also using technology to catch the eyes of millions of Internet users. It has exclusive deals with America Online Inc. and NetZero Inc., the country's largest free Internet service provider, to place ads on screen as Web users surf pages related to hobbies such as fishing, golf or other sports. Someone browsing a gardening page through AOL or NetZero might see an ad for a Chevrolet sport-utility vehicle.
A succession of GM executives who spoke last Thursday left no doubt that e-business has quickly become a corporate mantra. The automaker has hired more than 200 e-commerce specialists in the last four years and assigned them to every business unit throughout the corporation.
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