Dealer Will Use E-Mail to Sell $135K SUV

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Auto dealer G.WagenUSA will in late April break its first e-mail marketing campaign for the Mercedes-Benz Gelaendewagen, the costliest sports utility vehicle in the world.


The exclusive, interactive e-mail push to 1,500 individuals, although budgeted under $10,000, is largely intended to retain the loyalty of existing customers. At the same time, this one-off mailing is designed to stoke the curiosity of those not yet seduced by the German engineering and $135,000 sticker price.


The goal for the campaign is to "increase awareness and sales," said David T. Holland, CEO of Santa Fe, NM-based G.WagenUSA, a division of Europa International Inc.


The goal for sales in the United States is modest: 200 vehicles this year, or 20 percent of the total world production of the SUV. G.WagenUSA last year sold 121 vehicles in the U.S. Such sales were on par with the limited number of Lotus, Lamborghini and Aston Martin luxury vehicles sold here. Only Rolls-Royce and Ferrari sell more $100,000-plus cars in the U.S.


The e-mail itself is unique. Using Cycore Inc.'s proprietary Cult3D 5.0 software, the targeted recipient can open the e-mail attachment in Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint or Adobe Acrobat and take a virtual, 3-D tour. The viewer can spin the vehicle, zoom in and out, open and close doors, peek inside and look at every exterior and interior angle. Eventually, users will be able to mix and match interior and exterior colors.


"What that does is allow a showroom to be on every computer worldwide," said Matthew McDermid, vice president of marketing at Cycore. "This gives the viewer a much better and more realistic representation of the product than it would if you saw a two-dimensional image."


The text that accompanies this attachment is not yet written. But it will include instructions on how to interact with the Cult3D visual, along with a description and key features of the vehicle.


Cycore is a San Mateo, CA-based subsidiary of its namesake Swedish parent. So far, over 100 companies have used Cult3D software on their sites, including Volvo, Palm, Lego, Nokia, Boeing and G.WagenUSA, whose gwagen.com destination is only informational.


G.WagenUSA's Holland said the cost-effectiveness of this campaign played a key role in its birth. He is confident that e-mail is an appropriate alternative for reaching existing and potential customers, even for a big-ticket item like the Gelaendewagen.


"Such people are always proud to be owners," Cycore's McDermid said. "When they do get communications from a company representing Mercedes products, they tend to pay attention."


G.WagenUSA plans to purchase a second e-mail list targeted at a broader audience in May, but had no details on size of the list.


"In May there is a plan to purchase an e-mail list to target a broader audience," McDermid said.


The auto dealer will continue to run print ads in publications like the Robb Report and the Wall Street Journal. Readers of these media include the profile G.WagenUSA seeks: individuals that earn $500,000 or more a year, with a net worth in eight figures.


"[These are] people that envision themselves as mavericks, as not following the crowd, of being different," G.WagenUSA's Holland said.


Current owners of the Gelaendewagen include Liam Neeson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver, Tommy Hilfiger, Janet Jackson, Bill Cosby, Christie Brinkley, Marshal Field IV and Les Wexner, CEO of The Limited Inc. chain of stores.


Holland admits that much of the sales come from customer referrals. And 75 percent of those who buy don't even test-drive the vehicle, he said. They simply call up and order a car.


"The Gelaendewagen is a product that is bought with luxury dollars," Holland said. "It is not bought with transportation income."
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