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HIGH-TECH USED-CAR DEALER SHUNS HIGH-PRESSURE SALES

SHARE HIGH-TECH USED-CAR DEALER SHUNS HIGH-PRESSURE SALES

CarMax Superstore, Circuit City's vision of the future, can be found just outside Richmond, Va.

There you'll find a wide selection of clean, nearly new cars at no-haggle prices and free of the high-pressure tactics associated with used-car sales."I call it the Saturnization of the used-car business," says George Hoffer, an automotive analyst and Virginia Commonwealth University economics professor.

Circuit City aims to do for used cars what Saturn, the General Motors subsidiary, did for new cars: make the buying process less threatening.

CarMax offers a high-tech facility with touch-sensitive computer screens (also available at kiosks in three Virginia shopping malls) that allow you to sort through the inventory of 500 or so automobiles parked on the lot outside.

For any car that interests you, the computer will spew out a fact sheet with a picture of the vehicle, its specifications and accessories, price and the location on the lot.

Prices for the cars - most of which are clean, 1990 to 1993 models acquired from leasing companies, auctions, wholesalers and individuals - start around $8,000 and range into the high $20,000s.

The no-haggle policy means the price you see is the price you pay.

Although the company says it sets prices below the NADA (National Association of Automobile Dealers) book value, Richmond car dealers say the new competitor's prices tend to be higher than they are getting for comparable cars.

Circuit City senior vice-president Austin Ligon counters that cars in better-than-average condition may carry a price premium.