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VW hoping free gas offer will lure potential...

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VW hoping free gas offer will lure potential certified pre-owned buyers

ARLENA SAWYERS | Automotive News

Posted Date: 8/25/05

Volkswagen of America Inc. is offering consumers $50 in free gasoline to test drive a certified used VW vehicle.

VW is targeting 250,000 potential buyers with a direct-mail campaign that began in June. Patrick McFall, the company's certified pre-owned and corporate sales manager, says it's too early to tell how the promotion is faring.

Volkswagen division's sales of certified used vehicles fell 7.0 percent last month from July 2004. Between January and July 2005, those sales were down 9.0 percent from the year-ago period.

Fewer VW vehicles are available for certification this year than last year, McFall says. Like other automakers, VW reduced the number of vehicles it leased several years ago. As those leases expire, the vehicles can be sold as used.

McFall declined to estimate the number of off-lease VW vehicles returning to the market this year. He says VW division expects to sell 52,000 to 53,000 certified used vehicles in 2005.

Industry sales rise

Overall, the industry sold 145,458 certified used vehicles in July. That was a 3.7 percent increase from July 2004.

In the first seven months of 2005, the industry sold 956,262 certified cars and trucks. That was a 3.4 percent increase over the year-ago period.

Of the 250,000 consumers who are receiving VW's offer of a $50 gasoline card in exchange for a test drive, about 10 percent already own certified VW vehicles, McFall says. The rest are potential conquest buyers, he adds.

Roughly 25,000 of the prospects are getting a special mailing. The five-panel, fold-up card includes the new tag line for VW's certified program: "As close to new as it can possibly get."

"We wanted to try a different format, a different look," McFall says. "So we let the creative guys loose" to produce the card.

The card also explains the amenities that come with a certified used VW vehicle. They include a factory warranty, an inspection program and roadside assistance.

Print foundation

VW's direct-mail promotion builds on a national print advertising campaign that began in March. The print campaign includes ads in magazines such as Rolling Stone.

Those ads show technicians performing painstaking tasks to prepare used VW vehicles for certification. One shows a technician clipping a loose thread from a car seat with manicure scissors. Another ad portrays a technician ironing the pages of a VW owner's manual.

The print effort replaces the TV campaign that VW used to relaunch its certified program last year, McFall says.

"We wanted as many eyeballs as possible," McFall says. "In our second year, we're still in the relaunch phase. But we needed to shift from TV to national print to get more reach and frequency for the dollar."


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