Certified used cars find space at new-car shows

Showing off
Here are companies that display certified used vehicles at new-car shows, and their 11-month used-vehicles sales.
Toyota 179,482
Honda 98,072
Mercedes-Benz 34,492
Lexus 30,526
Acura 20,098
Source: Auto companies

A handful of companies are showcasing their certified used vehicles at auto shows, turf generally reserved for shiny new models and futuristic concepts.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., American Honda Motor Co. and Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. are among the companies trying the strategy.

Ford Division is looking at how it can use auto shows to market its "Quality Checked Certified Pre-Owned" vehicles, said Mike Dennis, Ford's manager of used-vehicle certification.

Though the companies place no more than two or three certified used vehicles in any show, those that do say it is an excellent way to introduce the used vehicles to millions of consumers - some of whom might be in the market for an alternative to a new vehicle.

A glimpse of the future

They also say it helps new-vehicle sales by showing people how their new vehicle might look two or three years down the road.

Still, not all auto shows accept certified used cars.

"It's the exposure," said Norm Olson, marketing operations manager for Toyota Certified Used Vehicles. Toyota Division began placing its certified used vehicles in auto shows about four years ago. Its luxury division, Lexus, has placed certified used vehicles in new-car shows since 1993.

"Look at the Los Angeles auto show. There are 1.4 million people there," Olson said. "It's cost-effective and great for customer awareness."

While certified used-vehicle programs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, the programs generally work the same. They offer late-model, low-mileage vehicles that have been mechanically and cosmetically reconditioned. The vehicles also come with factory-backed warranties.

Except for what their odometers reveal, the certified used show vehicles look almost new, the companies say.

"We're telling people, 'This is the way your car could look in 40,000 miles,' " Olson said.

Product specialists

Toyota Division and Lexus have product specialists at the shows to answer consumer questions about certification, inspections and vehicle warranty.

Toyota brand certified used vehicles are displayed at about 40 auto shows annually, Olson said.

Lexus certified vehicles show up in about 15 shows a year, said spokeswoman Nancy Hubbell. Lexus has been displaying the 1999 RX 300 and 2000 ES 300.

Ford's Dennis said he is working with the company's exhibit staff to see which shows accept used vehicles. He wants to develop a certified used-vehicle informational exhibit for shows where used vehicles aren't allowed or space is limited.

"It is very much on our radar screen," Dennis said.

No shows

Not all auto show sponsors accept used vehicles in their shows.

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit limits its exhibits to new vehicles, said Co-chairman Bill Demmer.

"We've been approached; we told them no, it's a new-car show," said Demmer, who also is president of Jack Demmer Automotive Group (Ford-Lincoln-Mercury) in Dearborn, Mich. "We have space constraints."

Shows in Los Angeles, Washington and Miami are among the venues that do allow certified used vehicles.

Dan Crowe, Honda used-vehicle manager, says he places certified Honda and Acura vehicles in seven or eight shows a year.

"It's a natural extension of the new-car franchise," Crowe said. "This offers them an intelligent alternative."

Mercedes has been placing its certified pre-owned vehicles - known as Starmark - in auto shows for almost a decade, said Ray Dupell, department manager for Mercedes Pre-Owned Marketing.

He said the shows accomplish two things: They reinforce Mercedes' reputation as a durable brand and tell customers about Mercedes' certified used-vehicle brand within a brand.

"We will have been in eight shows by the end of 2001," he said, "and I have five booked for 2002."

You can reach Arlena Sawyers at asawyers@crain.com

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