REBATES TAKE A FLIER

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It looks like the U.S. auto industry has finally moved away from rebates, the "quick fix" of the 1970s that hung on and screwed up auto marketing for two decades.

It was on the Super Bowl telecast of Jan. 12, 1975, that Chrysler Corp. spokesman Joe Garagiola first urged car shoppers to "Get a car ... get a check." It was considered a desperate move by Chrysler, then the weakest of the automakers, as Detroit came off a recession year with sales down 22%.

By 1979, Japanese imports were battering the Big Three, Lee Iacocca was trying to get a bailout loan from the government to save Chrysler and Joe was back for another Car Clearance Carnival round of rebates. Reluctant competitors joined in.

Now U.S. car makers are showing black ink, sales are healthier, and rebates are dwindling. Ironically, some Japanese models are offering rebates as their sales tail off.

There should be a lesson in all this for the U.S. airline industry. Racking up huge losses, airlines are enmeshed in round after round of cutting fares. It's a hard habit to kick; even giant American Airlines had to bend when it tried to bring fare wars to a halt.

When will it all end? When airlines provide travelers with demonstrable value-added benefits. If a car can be marketed as more than just transportation, why not air travel?

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