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Microsoft determined to get foothold in the automobile business

Microsoft is bound and determined to get deeply into the automobile business.

I've reported before about the Microsoft CarPoint Internet Web site, which has been offering information on new cars for the past year or so. It also has a new-car buying program on the site that lets Net surfers pick the vehicle they want, then get in touch with a local dealer to establish a price and a test drive or delivery.Now, Microsoft has added used cars to the mix, with a service called Interactive Classifieds.

The service lets Net surfers specify either the type of car they are looking for - sport-utility, sports car, minivan, station wagon, passenger car, pickup truck, etc. - or a specific make and model. Consumers can enter a price range, a range of model years and mileage.

The service then searches its dealer database to find vehicles that match the consumer's specifications, then gives a list of them, including the make and model, price, mileage and distance to the dealership from a specified ZIP code.

Then, with a click of the mouse on a specific vehicle on the list, a photo and full description of the vehicle pops up at the top of the screen. I found that the photo usually wasn't of the particular vehicle for sale, and that for some vehicles, there was no photo.

To find the dealer, consumers can click on a button and the Web site draws a color map. Another option allows consumers to query the dealer online about the specific car, to get answers to any questions about it.

I checked out used minivans and sport-utilities in the $5,000 to $12,000 range, and was immediately directed to cars at several dealers within a 50-mile radius.

The used-car service debuted Sept. 8 with 90,000 vehicles listed from 700 dealers. Microsoft says it plans to double the number of dealerships on the site within three months.

For a $1,000 monthly fee, any dealership can join the site and list as many vehicles as it wishes, Microsoft personnel say.

The software company began its own new-car buying service two months ago, after ending a yearlong association with Auto-by-Tel, a Southern California-based Internet new-car buying service.

The Microsoft Web address is carpoint.msn.com.