Land Rover hawks SUVs with rare 30-day, money-back guarantee

Wednesday, March 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT - Finding sales these days to be a jarring ride, Land Rover has rolled out a marketing pitch seen most on TV infomercials - money-back guarantees, this time on certain luxury sport utility vehicles.

Through May 31, the Ford Motor Co. unit will let would-be buyers drive its 2001 Discovery Series II model for 30 days or 1,500 miles - whichever comes first - and return it for a full refund if not satisfied.

``We know our product is highly capable, but we wanted to add something else - an ironclad, money-back guarantee'' for buyers of the four-wheel-drive SUV, said Howard Mosher, president and chief executive of Land Rover's North American sales arm.

The guarantee also has been added to the Discovery Series II lease program, which offers the entry-level SD model for $399 a month for 36 months with a $1,995 down payment, with available 4.9 percent financing to eligible buyers.

At a base price of $33,995, the Discovery Series II has struggled in an increasingly competitive luxury SUV segment. Over this year's first two months, England-based Land Rover sold 2,253 of the seven-passenger SUV models, down 37 percent from a year ago.

Overall, Land Rover sales, including its Range Rover line, in January and February have plunged 35 percent from the same two months last year.

``With over 50 sport utility vehicles now in the marketplace, consumers are seeking differentiation,'' Mosher said in hoping to draw more buyers to Land Rover's 129 retail outlets nationwide.

Land Rover's marketing move comes as other high-end SUVs jockey to prop up sales in a cooling U.S. market.

Over this year's first two months, demand for DaimlerChrysler AG's Mercedes-Benz M-class SUVs has slumped 22 percent. Sales of Ford's Lincoln Navigator has slid 23 percent, while demand for General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac Escalade has plunged 49 percent.

While money-back guarantees are rare in the auto industry, they're not unheard of.

In 1990, Volkswagen AG responded to weak U.S. sales by offering a 30-day or 3,000-mile money-back guarantee on its mid-size Passat sedans. At that time, other automakers offered similar promotions, though none let buyers walk away with their money.

Back then, GM's Oldsmobile division offered to let buyers of its 1990 models unsatisfied after the first 30 days or 1,500 miles of ownership return a car for credit toward the purchase of another Olds.

Now comes the aggressive promotion by Land Rover, which auto analyst Jim Gillette of IRN Inc. said faces ``pretty tough sledding'' in trying to prop up sales in a tight market. And he's not sure the luxury automaker's bid to ``make some sort of big splash'' won't backfire.

``It's kind of a bad strategy from the standpoint that on high-end vehicles, buyers don't buy on price. They shop on prestige and image,'' Gillette said. ``To use this kind of sales gimmick, I think it will dilute the brand's image.''

Click here to check out Land Rover's website