Traditional car showrooms may have some serious competition from web-based dealerships, whose popularity is expected to grow by over 140 percent by 2002, according to research by industry analyst Datamonitor.

Buying online, across all retail sectors, has seen noticeable growth throughout 2001, but the car sales sector has seen spectacular development.

"People are generally dissatisfied with car sales in this country," said a spokesman at the Consumers Association. "Prices are much higher than those in Europe and people feel they are being ripped off. If the internet offers people a cheaper alternative then it's common sense that people will choose to buy online."

The study, Impact 2001, found on average 40 percent of European consumers use the internet to research or purchase an automotive product, from insurance to the actual car.

"Our internet site allows customers to check out current deals, car specifications and other information before they come into the showroom, saving everybody time and saving them leg work," said Mark Brown, sales assistant at motor company Ford.

"Until now the primary use of the internet has been to conduct research and collect information. Online retailers have so far struggled to convince consumers to purchase goods online," said Laurence Stock automotive analyst at Datamonitor. "However, the strong following the internet has created for finding out more about cars will inevitably lead to greatly increased online car sales in the future."