A question frequently asked at this year's NADA convention was “Where are the dot-coms?”

It was often asked with smug overtones. The implication is that, despite all of the bravado and glitz the last couple of years, the dot-coms have been decimated from the automotive retail landscape.

Not so fast. The dot-coms that have survived are stronger now than ever before in their short history. And they were at the NADA convention with large booths and by their accounts, increased traffic.

What was missing, however, at this year's convention was the hype from previous years.

Two years ago, the message was “We're going to take over the industry!” Blimps, billboards and banners heralding dot-com companies were everywhere when the 2000 NADA convention convened in Orlando, FL.

Last year at the NADA convention in Las Vegas, the message became a defiant “We have every right to play in the industry!”

This year — well — there was no message. And that may be the story.

The third-party sites that still exist have settled into comfortable roles in the industry. And no one seems to be questioning their right to exist.

Says Eli Kuo of Dealix Commerce Services (formerly InvoiceDealers.com), “This year, it wasn't a screenplay drama or a soap opera for the dot-coms. The public has accepted us and we've become a normal part of the industry.”

Mark Miller, vice president of operations for CarsDirect.com, explains, “The Internet in past years was viewed as being an added cost and added level for the the dealership. Now, it seems like everyone is in the acceptance and deployment mode.”

The mood at the third-party booths this year appeared to be more relaxed. The folks at Autobytel, Inc., finally acted like they belonged at NADA and weren't fighting for respect as in previous years.

New Autobytel CEO Jeffrey Schwartz admitted the news the company had reached profitability for the first time was a huge psychological boost for the employees.

“There is a buoyancy here at the show,” he says. “We haven't fielded any questions of our survival.”

In addition to its fourth quarter profitability, Autobytel has managed to reverse the trend of losing dealers, and has increased the number of its dealer partnerships to 8,800.

Meanwhile, Mitch Golub, CEO of Cars.com, seemed almost giddy with this year's convention. “It only happens when I'm at NADA,” he says. “I wake up, smile, look in the mirror and say, ‘We're still here!’”

He admits starting Cars.com was the hardest thing he's ever done. “When we announced, everyone said we would fail. But this year, we've doubled dealer traffic through the booth, and we're helping dealers sell 1,000 cars a day.”

Another major Internet player, AutoTrader.com, has seen significant growth this year, increasing its total revenue in the 4th quarter alone by 89%. The average number of monthly unique visitors also has increased 57% to 5.8 million.

The number of dealers using AutoTrader.com services are up to 7,000 — a 31% increase from last year.

Says Chip Perry, AutoTrader's president and CEO, “We're maintaining the growth plan we established four years ago. We're methodically driving the company to profitability while providing a great service to the dealers.”