LOS ANGELES - Infiniti Division is raising the bar on courting and pleasing fickle luxury car consumers.
The automaker has retained an outside specialty promotions firm, Consumer Links Network, to provide owners with surprise-and-delight 'Infiniti Extras.'
The goodies include:
Free airfare and a room upgrade when booking a week's stay at the Four Seasons hotel in Hawaii.
Discount pricing on travel packages to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which Infiniti sponsors.
The ability to purchase high-tech gadgetry, such as the Palm III handheld computer, at a cost far below the national chains.
A special Internet site that gives owners sneak peeks at future product and advertising before they are shown to the general public.
'What consumers are looking for from the dealer and manufacturer is communication - more information about what's going on,' said Steve Kight, Infiniti director of marketing.
'They've paid to be part of the family and franchise, and they deserve more than loyalty coupons,' he said.
Membership in the Infiniti Owners Club is open to all Infiniti owners, whether they purchased a vehicle new or used, from a dealer or a third party.
Although it already is among the top scorers in industry sales and customer satisfaction polls, Infiniti needs the added sales that loyalty brings.
In a red-hot 1998, when nearly every luxury marque saw record sales gains and volume levels, Infiniti sales were down 2.9 percent.
Currently, Infiniti's franchise loyalty is around 40 percent to 43 percent, which Kight wants to boost to at least 50 percent of the current owner body.
To be sure, Infiniti had only three products to sell for half of last year - one shy of its usual complement. And with the G20 back in the lineup late in the year, fourth-quarter sales were on a record pace.
That gives dealers reason to be hopeful, said Tom Orbe, Infiniti Division general manager.
The 'Infiniti Extras' program will be another arrow in the quill for dealers when Infiniti launches the redesigned I30 this summer.
Infiniti made its commitment to the Internet because direct mail is expensive, one-way and passive, Kight said, whereas the Internet is more targeted and trackable.
But Infiniti also knows the potential harm that unsolicited e-mail entails. So when an Infiniti owner logs on to the Web site, he can control whether Infiniti contacts him in the future. Infiniti will not 'spam' their owners, Kight said.
The owners-only Web site is linked through Infiniti's general Web site (www.infiniti-usa.com) and is accessed using an owner's vehicle identification number.
For people who don't own a computer or are leery of Internet commerce, the same club benefits are available by phone at (877) 398-7277.
The site, which opened Wednesday, Jan. 20, will introduce new offerings as seasons change.
Infiniti also is using the Internet to get consumers into the dealership.
Rather than just promoting the national brand, the site is touting various dealer events.
For starters, the company is pairing with Motor Trend magazine for a 36-city dealer tour of Infiniti's Indy Racing League car. The tour is in conjunction with the magazine's 50th anniversary.
Infiniti will let owners know when the car is coming to a local dealership. It also will notify owners of special local viewings of the new I30 in advance of the general public.