Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc. is following up last year's rollout of its used-car certification program with a national advertising campaign and a dealer consultancy program.
The company wants to help dealers boost sales of used Mercedes vehicles and attract a new generation of Mercedes customers. Mercedes-Benz sees its used vehicles as a more affordable point of entry to the Mercedes brand.
Mercedes dealers sold about 40,100 used Mercedes vehicles in 1998, up from 35,000 in 1997. Mercedes-Benz expects dealers to sell 45,000 used vehicles in 1999.
The company's objective is to sell 22,000 of those 45,000 vehicles through its new Starmark used-vehicle certification program. Mercedes-Benz introduced the program in Los Angeles in early 1998 and has enrolled 301 of its 315 dealerships in the program.
Through Starmark, dealers recondition used Mercedes vehicles to company standards and sell them with a factory-backed warranty extension.
Mercedes-Benz is supporting Starmark with its first used-vehicle ads on national TV, as well as radio, print and direct-mail ads.
The first national TV ad aired during the fourth quarter of 1998. Also during the quarter, Starmark print ads appeared in five major newspapers, including USA Today and The New York Times.
Gregg Goolsby, Mercedes-Benz's department manager for used vehicles, would not disclose how much Mercedes-Benz is spending on the ads, only that it is a multimillion-dollar campaign.
Later this year, Mercedes-Benz also will work directly with about 25 percent of its dealers through the upcoming Pre-owned Mercedes-Benz Consultancy Program.
The program will be aimed at dealers who have not done well in the used-car market and those who have the opportunity to increase their sales penetration. Mercedes-Benz will analyze the dealers' markets and help them develop a used-vehicle 'action plan,' Goolsby said.
Mercedes-Benz is stressing the importance of its used vehicles because of their ability to attract and retain customers who cannot yet afford new Mercedes vehicles.
About 60 percent of Starmark vehicles are priced under $30,000.
The average age of Starmark customers is 44 years old, compared with 50 years old for the company's new-car customers.
Goolsby expects the average age of Starmark customers to drop further as vehicles such as the M-class sport-utility and the CLK coupe come back as used vehicles.