It's been a wild ride for Autobytel Inc., the online automobile marketing company launched in Orange County during the Internet's gold rush.
Founded in 1995 by Southern California car dealership owner Pete Ellis, the company promised to take the hassle out of car-buying by enabling consumers to connect online with dealers, which would pay for Autobytel's sales leads.
The company introduced itself to the world in grand style — a $2.5-million television commercial during the 1997 Super Bowl with Leonard Nimoy handling the voice-over. Autobytel was the first Internet company to advertise during the Super Bowl.
"From the beginning of time, people wondered, 'Why does car...