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The Project: Build to order most cars in Europe, and up to 30% of U.S. cars, at no extra cost, by linking dealerships, factories, and suppliers.

The Payoff: Provide more options to customers, slash the time it takes to deliver cars by a third, and cut overstock.

The ultimate extravagance in buying a luxury car is having everything just the way you want it. So German auto maker BMW is using the Net to allow its buyers to custom-order cars without destroying production-line efficiency. Instead of choosing from a pool of dealer-purchased cars, buyers now can design their own Bimmer -- from 350 model variations, 500 options, 90 exterior colors, and 170 interior trims. Rainer Feurer, a BMW vice-president, says that 80% of cars individuals buy in Europe and up to 30% in the U.S. are built to order.

To give customers this luxury, BMW overhauled its entire network, from sales systems to distribution software. When the dealer enters a customer's chosen options into BMW's Web ordering service, he receives the precise date of delivery five seconds later. The information is relayed to thousands of suppliers who ship the components in sequence. The cars arrive 11 to 12 days later, one-third the time it took before the online system was in place. Add 12 more days if the car has to be shipped from Europe to the U.S. How's that for white-glove service? By Gail Edmondson

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