Business

Gas cards, rebates used to get customers on car lots

Posted June 16, 2008 4:38 p.m. EDT
Updated June 16, 2008 6:10 p.m. EDT

— Pinched by lagging demand in a slow economy and soaring gas prices, car dealerships are resorting to a range of gimmicks to lure customers back to their lots.

Johnson Chrysler is among a growing number of dealers offering free or reduced-price gas to people who buy a new car.

"A lot of customers are so geared against the price of fuel that these promotions are drawing attention and driving customers into the stores," said Caz Casbarro, general sales manager at Johnson Chrysler.

The dealership is promoting gas for $2.99 a gallon for three years – the amount of gas is limited based on mileage, and there also is a restriction on the grade of fuel purchased. A sister dealership in Raleigh is offering free gas for the summer.

"We want to be involved in trying to help with a more long-term solution than a short-term solution," Casbarro said.

Rick Hendrick Chevrolet is using rebates of up to $9,000 to move sport utility vehicles off its lot. As with the gas promotions, the rebates come with restrictions.

"You can either take it all at once, or you can take it over a term period, with gas being at a reduced rate," General Manager Doug Harbison said.

Although sales are slower, Harbison said people are still buying SUVs.

"Many people's lifestyles and needs call for a sports utility (vehicle)," he said.

Morgan Mitsubishi has swapped out its inventory, exchanging pickups and Jeeps for more fuel-efficient sedans.

"We have one (of) what we refer to as a gas-guzzler vehicle (on the lot)," Dan Morgan said. "The customer is demanding (the change). The customers come in, (and) they want more fuel-efficient vehicles. It's that simple.

"I think all of our industry is going to have to adapt to it."