DAIMLER SWEEPS EUROPE WITH SMART CAR TEST-DRIVES: NEW 2-SEATER'S PROMOTION DISPATCHES 880 CARS INTO NINE COUNTRIES

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[duesseldorf] DaimlerChrysler's colorful, small Smart car brought its own brand of Christmas cheer to European shoppers -- the offer of free rides and test drives in 880 cars that circulated around Europe's major cities.

Pedestrians who flagged down the tiny two-seater cars on the street during December were treated to a 30-minute ride or a chance to take the wheel in an unusual promotion dubbed "Stop & Go."

The cars circulated in the nine European countries where DaimlerChrysler-owned Micro Compact Car launched the vehicle in October, backed by an ad campaign that started nearly a year earlier from Smart agency Weber, Hodel, Schmid in Zurich.

PIX BEAMED TO WEB SITE

Some of the roving Smart cars were equipped with cameras to beam pictures directly to the company's Web site (www.smart.com).

"We are very satisfied with the promotion. We have 10 or 15 interested people per car each day," said Beate Nakamura, marketing manager of Duesseldorf's Smart center -- as the unusual dealerships with brightly colored Smarts stacked in silo-like glass buildings are called. "I expect that many will approach us [about buying a car] after the holidays are over."

Less happy were the German taxi drivers who protested that the zealous Smart drivers were stealing their paying fares by taking passengers wherever they wanted to go.

To show their annoyance, 170 taxis from Stuttgart on Dec. 22 drove to DaimlerChrysler's headquarters, where they honked their horns and demonstrated against the promotion. They were particularly incensed because 70% of German taxis are Mercedes-Benz, made by DaimlerChrysler.

"Some Smarts were parked at our taxi stands and tried to lure taxi guests away from us," complained a spokesman for an association of taxis and rental cars in Stuttgart.

Ms. Nakamura said the Smart test drives might have been promoted too aggressively in newspaper and radio ads. "We regret the situation," said a DaimlerChrysler spokeswoman. "It was not our intention to become rivals of the

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