When Mitsubishi started offering free gasoline for a year as a retail incentive, it touched a nerve.
Then General Motors jumped on board by giving $500 worth of gasoline to buyers of some SUVs. Don't be surprised if other automakers try something similar.
Rising gasoline prices have been an ongoing concern for many Americans, but when prices spiked above $3 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina the value of free gasoline as an incentive turned from gold to platinum. That's because fuel costs and fuel economy, or the lack of it, have moved up the list of purchase considerations.
Part of the challenge facing automakers is how to overcome the public's heightened concern about fuel prices and get truck sales rolling again. Free gasoline might offset some of that concern, so the promotion is a natural for automakers.
But other businesses -- including radio stations, credit cards, petroleum companies and vacation resorts -- already offer free fuel.
Now California's Blackstone Winery is offering $20 worth of Marathon gasoline if you buy 12 bottles of wine before the end of November.
Linking booze with gasoline seems an unlikely marketing tie-in. Maybe it ought to be taboo. At least the promotion doesn't offer a free bottle of wine if you buy 20 gallons of gasoline.
Just imagine the kid behind the counter at the corner gas station: "Thank you, sir, here's your free bottle of wine. Is that for here or to go? A plastic cup will be 25 cents more.''
It's not unusual for other businesses to borrow cool marketing ideas from automakers. GM's Employee Discount for Everyone has been widely copied. So was the Keep America Rolling 0 percent financing program, which began after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
That's because they were simple and easy to understand. Like free gasoline.
Mitsubishi's formula for calculating the free gasoline for a particular model might be a little confusing for some buyers, but it seems to be working.
Free gasoline won't work forever. Ultimately, the best sales incentive will be to dramatically improve fuel economy.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at