European cars' free service pulls in buyers
U.S. automakers unlikely to go down that road
October 4, 1999
STERLING HEIGHTS, Michigan (CNN) -- New car shopper Brian Black is considering several models, but Volkswagen's offer of free maintenance may tip the scales. The company is one of several European automakers that have decided giving something away is a good way to keep customers coming back.
But don't look for U.S. manufacturers to match them.
The Volkswagen incentive -- free scheduled maintenance for the length of the 2-year, 24-thousand mile new car warranty -- is "very influential," Black told CNN.
Scheduled maintenance "includes all the adjustments, the lubrications and any other thing (the customer) may find in terms of material defect," says Steve Keyes, a Volkswagen executive.
BMW offers what it calls free, full maintenance for the life of a 4-year, 50,000-mile new car warranty.
That includes oil changes, just like Volkswagen. The BMW deal also covers "brake pads, rotors, things of that sort that may go bad on the car," says Dale Dandurand, a BMW dealer in Bloomfield Hills, a Detroit suburb.
The two German automakers are not alone. Mercedes Benz began offering free service with the 2000 model year. Audi has had it for 12 years.
South Korea's Daewoo, trying to build its presence in the U.S. market, also offers free scheduled maintenance for new vehicles and other non-U.S. automakers are said to be considering it.
Why give away oil changes and wiper blades? "It's really a desire to sell more and they're coming into a competitive market, a mature market so you have to find a way to carve out your niche," says Marge Sorge of Automotive Industries magazine.
All that free service can add up to considerable savings -- manufacturers estimate between $300 and $2,000 dollars throughout the life of the warranty.
But customer savings are also car company costs, so don't expect U.S. automakers to jump on the freebie bandwagon.
"They have so much volume in the United States," Sorge says. "It would be very expensive, almost cost-prohibitive, to do this for every single vehicle you sell."
Knowing that, European and Asian carmakers hope the lure of free lubrication and other regular maintenance will lead buyers like Brian Black into their showrooms.
Detroit Bureau Chief Ed Garsten contributed to this report
CNNfn: Home & Auto
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