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Because car dealerships make many people nervous, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America decided to reach out to consumers on their own turf-namely, the shopping mall.

The Mitsubishi Motors Mall Tour hit the road in October, taking several of its 1997 models to 28 shopping centers across the U.S.

But this Mitsubishi "showroom" isn't trying to sell cars, at least not at the mall itself. Instead, it's seeking "a dialogue with prospective customers who don't know who we are and might be intimidated by the usual car-buying process," said Jim Jones, marketing communications manager.

Each mini-showroom includes displays, interactive kiosks and take-home information for consumers in a no-pressure layout.


Staff members are on hand to answer questions and invite consumers to fill out a questionnaire to enter a sweepstakes offering a half-dozen travel prizes.

Consumers who agree to visit a dealership and take a test-drive receive a certificate, after the drive, good for $50 in merchandise from Blockbuster or Barnes & Noble.

In each area, the effort is backed by a targeted direct mail program inviting prospects to see the Mitsubishi vehicles at the mall.

Andrew Joseph & Co., Birmingham, Mich., created the promotion, including supporting marketing materials. Grey Advertising's G2 unit, Huntington Beach, Calif., is Mitsubishi's ad agency.

The program has "far exceeded" expectations, Mr. Jones said. Before the tour ends Feb. 16, Mitsubishi expects to have contacted as many as 140,000 consumers, with 10% seriously considering buying one of its cars.

The program also lets consumers sound off about cars and the car purchasing process.

"We're getting information from consumers that we're using to improve the sales process. It's remarkable how much more receptive people are when they feel they're not being hounded by salesmen," said Paul Turner, co-president of Andrew

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