HIGH-END AUTOMAKERS PEDDLE CAR-BRANDED MOUNTAIN BIKES; FINALLY, A $4,500 PORSCHE! DRIVERS TO HAVE PRICEY 2-WHEEL OPTION

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There's a new cycle in the cyclical auto industry-the bicycle.

Chrysler Corp.'s Jeep, Mercedes-Benz of North America and Porsche Cars of North America will launch auto-branded mountain bikes this year in the U.S., joining BMW of North America.

The German carmaker launched a line of BMW bikes in its native country four years ago and the concept crossed the Atlantic in 1994.

Earlier this year, Volkswagen of America teamed up with Trek USA for a limited-edition Jetta Trek sedan that comes with a Trek mountain bike and custom roof-mounted bike rack.

RIDING THREE JEEP NAMES

Jeep inked a licensing deal with Ross Bicycles for its new Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee-branded bikes, which will sell for between $200 and $600. They will be sold mostly via retailers and, to a lesser extend, at Jeep dealerships.

Ross will be responsible for advertising and planned to talk to Chrysler last weekend about a campaign. None of the car companies plans separate ad campaigns for their bike brands.

"It's really a natural extension for the brand name and Jeep's image of go anywhere, do anything," said Bob Kirkwood, merchandising manager. It also provides a link for people who aspire to a real Jeep but can't afford one.

$3,300 MERCEDES

Porsche started selling its mountain bikes in Europe last fall and will import those. Mercedes designed its own bike, made by AMP Research in the U.S.

Mercedes boasts the only cross-county bike with disc brakes; it can be partially disassembled and put in a car trunk.

The bike, priced around $3,300, will only be available at Mercedes dealers starting in mid-July.

"We are looking for new ways to attract people into Mercedes

showrooms and looking at getting younger buyers," said Fred Heiler,

public relations manager. "Biking is a fast-growing sport, and our

buyers are likely to be able to afford a high-end bike."

"If your core brand is attractive to people in one category, it

will be attractive to them in another," said Jay Houghton, senior

consultant at Automotive Marketing Consultants.

"It could enhance the image of the core brand."

MOUNTAIN BIKES RULE SALES

Mountain bikes displaced 10-speeds as sales leader in the mid-1980s,

and now account for about 70% of all bicycles sold in the U.S.,

according to Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

Buyers of high-end mountain bikes are mainly "hard-core, younger

Generation Xers," but also baby boomers, said Steve Frothingham,

executive editor.

About 12 million bikes are sold annually in the U.S., with an

average price of just under $400.

Porsche's will be the most expensive: $2,000 for its lower-end model

and $4,500 for a full-suspension, high-performance bike, said Barbara

Manha, media relations manager. Porsche has been selling non-bike

accessories for years; the mountain bike is "just another item we

think will appeal to our customer," she said.

BMW's models sell for between $615 and $2,000.

VW is the only car company advertising its bike deal. Print and TV

from Arnold Communications, Boston, say "five on the floor. 21 on

the roof," referring to the car's and bike's speeds.

REWARD BUYERS

"Mountain bikes matched up with our buyers' lifestyles," said Bill

Gelgota, brand equity manager at VW. "We're trying to evade value

incentives with products that reward buyers with something for their

lifestyle."

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