Autobytel Inc. is launching a break-through integrated automotive-only search engine in June that company executives hope will reinvent the way cars are sold online.

The site, dubbed, arguably could be the first major innovation in years developed by one of the companies that sell Web-based leads to dealers.

For dealers, — if successful — will provide dealers with more qualified online leads, not just for new and used vehicles, but for service, accessories and financing.

According to Autobytel's CEO and President Jim Riesenbach, online automotive sites have developed over the last 12 years with little differentiation for the customer. They use similar technologies, have a similar look and feel and generally push customers into a preset buying funnel.

Customers can research new or used vehicles (not both in the same search), list their current vehicles on a classified listings section or submit purchase requests to dealers. Other than that, shoppers are locked into the process.

While Google and Yahoo have introduced search technology to the shopping process, broad searches can turn up millions of pages, many of which are irrelevant to the overwhelmed shopper.

“I believe the category has evolved more slowly than the technology,” Riesenbach says. “We think there is a great opportunity to reinvent the category.”

Riesenbach claims will solve many of those issues. It will allow the shopper to seamlessly research new and used vehicles at the same time, while including areas such as service and accessories.

The site will focus on everything having to do with vehicle ownership, not just the buying process. Over time, will be able to analyze what people are looking for and direct them to the right places online, rather than dumping 2 million possibilities into their search, according to company executives. could be a boon for other online automotive sites also, by driving traffic to those sites. Autobytel officials say will have close to 4 million new and used vehicles in its inventory. It has agreements with most of the Web-based automotive sites to allow it to “spider” — or include their inventory in its search engine.

It sounds great, and dealers who previewed it at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in February give it great reviews. But is a big gamble for Autobytel. The firm says it still is focusing on providing leads to dealers. It recently signed enterprise agreements with the Wilson Automotive Group and V.T. Inc. The new site opens the door for it to become more advertising-focused. In a couple of years, the majority of its revenue could be ad-driven — a reversal of what it is today.

The question for Autobytel really comes down to execution. Will be as robust and informative as executives claim? Will executives make the right call in how to monetize the site? Those are big questions, but if the answers are yes, then the company that introduced the Internet to automotive retail just might reinvent today's model.