Land Rover Drives Online Terrain for Freelander

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In what is arguably a first for the U.S. automotive industry, Land Rover North America will allow consumers to configure and place orders online for its 2002 Land Rover Freelander model five months before the small sport utility vehicle hits showrooms.


Called Freelander Pre-Sold, the program will kick off in late July or early August and will center around freelander.com, a site created by interactive shop Agency.com, Dallas.


The online effort pushes the Freelander to active 25- to 34-year-olds in the market to buy a small SUV for a little less than $30,000.


"The demographic and the younger age that we've targeted for this product, we feel, is going to have more Internet savvy, especially in the buying cycle," said Dean Evans, manager of interactive media and e-commerce at Land Rover, Lanham, MD.


"And also, in the research phases of the sales process, we want to make sure we have a presence [online]," Evans said.


The Freelander site right now is in the second phase of Land Rover's Internet strategy for the vehicle, which will ship to U.S. dealers in December.


The first phase started in January, when the site was conceived. The current phase teases prospects with a peek at the car. And in a couple of months, the order process will kick off.


According to Land Rover's plans, phase three will allow visitors at freelander.com to design the car according to their specifications. Once the configuration is complete and an order is placed, it is sent to a dealer for fulfillment. Consumers also can go directly to dealers.


"It gives all of the Freelander hand-raisers and the other customers that we acquire between now and then through our customer acquisition drive the ability to order online and connect with a retailer and VIP-reserve the Freelanders that come to North American shores," Evans said.


To keep the enthusiasm alive, Land Rover, a division of Ford Motor Co., will copy a model common to certain PC manufacturers by allowing consumers to track the car's assembly right through delivery to the dealer showroom.


One thing is certain: The British luxury automaker will not bypass its dealer network.


"What we're doing here, because of the Land Rover way, and the way our retailers are set up in a very boutique luxury brand way, we're taking both the best online and offline practices," Evans said.


"So that's why we're not trying to, or will we ever at Land Rover, promote a complete online experience," he said.


The company has hired GSD&M, Austin, TX, to handle advertising for Freelander. Online tactics call for rich media banners, sponsorships, and e-mails to its inhouse database and purchased names. The online effort will break in July.


Evans was reluctant to disclose the nature of traditional advertising that will break in January 2002.


"What we're thinking of doing is obviously leveraging Ford's buying power because of the new relationships with Ford and also leveraging Ford's relationships with vendors such as Yahoo, AOL [and] Carpoint, for example," Evans said.


For the moment, the Land Rover online strategy for Freelander is more bait and pull. Freelander.com welcomes visitors with music and shots of the car in various locales. One shot shows a rhinoceros chasing the Freelander -- an image intended to convey the car's rugged attributes.


In addition, the site displays Freelander's specs, compliments from auto magazines, history and a link to the Land Rover Web site. Consumers also are asked to sign up for more information and to invite a friend to view the site by providing an e-mail address.


A survey on favorite colors for Freelander's exterior has black as the top nomination.


The site has no close-ups of the car's interior or exterior.


"A lot of that we're doing on purpose to build excitement in the product," Evans said. "When we launch the pre-sold product in July, that's when phase three of the Freelander site will go live."


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