VW targets Web-savvy with online Beetle offer

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Consumers who want to buy either of two limited-color Beetles will have to go online to get them.

Volkswagen of America dipped a cautious toe into the digital waters on May 1 when it put 2,000 Vapor Blue and 2,000 Reflex Yellow bugs up for sale on its Web site (www.vw.com). The pilot program was developed with VW's dealer council "to help them enhance their digital capabilities," said Liz Vanzura, the automaker's marketing director.

Nervous dealers take note: VW has no plans for direct sales. Consumers will make their buy online but be directed to dealers to complete the transaction, said Tesa Aragones, VW interactive marketing manager. A secure, personalized Web site is created for each buyer to hammer out details of their deal and arrange delivery with the retailer.

VW kicked off a $5 million national TV and print effort from Arnold Communications, Boston, last week to promote the offering.

PUZZLE PREMIUM

In conjunction with the online sales, VW offers collectors' edition cards with pictures of the limited-edition Beetles. The backs of the 10-card set can be assembled like a puzzle to form a big picture, and the first set's puzzle forms an ad.

The cards are "a way to capitalize on the great feelings our owners have about our brand," Ms. Vanzura said. "We hope to get our owners excited about them and maybe auction them on e-Bay."

Early visitors to the Web site who ask for more information about the limited-color Beetles will get the set, and VW plans to mail them to Beetle drivers whose leases are about to expire. VW has committed to three different sets. The second features scenes of TV commercials from recent years.

That set, due within two months, is likely to show the skeleton toy used as a prop in 1997's "Da-Da-Da" spot for the VW Golf. Ms. Vanzura said a scene from the current "Mr. Roboto" commercial for the Golf also is likely. The third set will feature vintage VWs.

Ford Motor Co. offered a card collection last year to honor the 35th anniversary of the Ford Mustang.

`TRULY INNOVATIVE'

But VW's trading cards are "truly innovative," said Susan Jacobs, president of auto consultancy Jacobs & Associates. She also said the plan to sell limited-edition colors for the Beetle is a great way to maintain interest in the car, which debuted in 1998. Internet sales will draw the younger consumers VW craves, Ms. Jacobs said.

"For a generation of younger buyers, everyone is going after delivering communications through the Internet. It makes sense since this is where a lot of the potential buyers are."

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