Direct Line, the UK's biggest direct writer, has substantially upped the stakes in the internet war by promising consumers that sales will take just two minutes to complete.

The insurer joined the cyber bandwagon this week with the launch of its web site.

It will now sell motor, home and car-breakdown insurance on-line 24 hours a day. Direct Line, famous for its motorised red telephone, is arguably the best branded insurer in the country after spending millions to promote a fast service and cheap quotes.

The new web site, which has been in the pipeline for 18 months, also promises to provide the "fastest, most efficient quote and buy service in the insurance market".

Chief executive Ian Chippendale said the web site would have the same impact on the market that its direct writing onslaught had in the 1980s.

"Direct Line's new web site will irreversibly alter the insurance market in the same way as Direct Line shook up the traditional players 15 years ago," he said.

"Buying insurance direct is the way the market is moving.

"By 2003 we expect at least 15% of motor insurance to be bought over the internet, 70% by phone and only 15% at branches, particularly with increasing demand for 24-hour service."

But Eagle Star internet manager, Malcolm Booth, said the "two minute to buy boast" could be misleading. He added a warning that internet users run the risk of not knowing what cover they have bought because they have rushed through the process.

"There are other screens where you can dash through the commands and buy insurance in under two minutes," he said. "But this is not like buying a bar of chocolate.

"It is an intangible product which the consumer needs to understand thoroughly.

"Most of our customers take the same time as they do when buying over the telephone."

Direct Line, owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, currently has 2.1 million motor policyholders and 850,000 home policyholders. There also also 300,000 people with car breakdown cover.

Consumers can buy cover by simply tapping in their credit card details on to the screen, which is protected by an encryption code.

The web site is integrated with the call centres so that customers can contact telesales operators for further assistance if required.