Microsoft Corp. is forming a joint venture to allow customers to build vehicles to order through Microsoft's MSN CarPoint online car-buying service.

Ford Motor Co. is the first partner in a proposed new MSN CarPoint joint venture to create a new way for consumers to design and order the vehicle they want, when they want it. Ford and Microsoft say the new venture will transform the way consumers buy vehicles on the Internet.

Ford and Microsoft will also develop the first online build-to-order system to link consumer order configurations directly with automotive manufacturers' supply and delivery systems. This will allow consumers to order any model of vehicle to their exact specifications on Car-Point,, and other automotive destination sites. Buyers will receive immediate feedback on availability, and delivery and service will be scheduled at their local dealership.

The new CarPoint entity will bring together Microsoft, Ford, and others in the automotive industry in a joint venture. Microsoft will hold the majority stake. Lindsay Sparks, general manager of CarPoint for the past three years, will serve as CEO of the new CarPoint entity.

Through its relationship with The Reynolds and Reynolds Co., Car- Point has built a channel with more than 3,500 dealers who participate in the CarPoint New Car Buying Service and the Used Car Marketplace. Reynolds and Reynolds will continue to work with CarPoint.

With the planned creation of the online build-to-order system, manufacturers will also be able to offer consumers greater access to pre- or custom-built vehicles. The transaction and delivery takes place at a dealership. The planned build-to-order system will combine existing CarPoint car-buying, shopping, and ownership tools with a service that allows consumers to configure and order the car they want.

The underlying technology for integrating CarPoint systems with manufacturer and dealer systems will include the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system, Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, and the BizTalk Server.

Once a consumer has decided which vehicle is right for him or her, CarPoint will locate an existing car, whether it is on a dealer's lot or on a transporter headed across the country, or it will place an order for a new custom vehicle to be built at the factory and delivered through the consumer's local dealership. The build-to-order system will provide consumers with access to realtime information throughout the buying process, including vehicle availability, anticipated delivery schedules, and notification of delivery plans. The technology will also enable manufacturers and dealers to get instant, simultaneous online views of the status of the order until the vehicle is delivered to the consumer.