Mercedes brings rivals on road trip

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Mercedes-benz usa hopes to keep the heat on competitors in the growing category of luxury sport-utility vehicles with a 10-city ride-and-drive that kicked off this month.

The car marketer is showing off the capabilities of its trio of M-Class SUVs at the "M-Class Power Trip" events, and attendees also get the chance to drive several competing models.

"This gives our clients and prospective clients the opportunity to really look at the vehicle up close and put it through its paces along with a couple of competitors," said Mike Russell, manager of presence marketing at Mercedes.

The first M-Class model, the 320, went on sale in fall 1997. "We're not sure everyone knows there are three models now," Mr. Russell said.


The "M-Class Power Trip" offers three courses. The Learn & Drive Course includes steep curves and a slalom. The Off-Road Course includes an incline with rollers, bumps and sand. For the Hot-Lap Course, a professional driver gives rides in the high-performance ML55 AMG. Passengers get a video of themselves inside the SUV.

As many as 2,000 people can attend per city; there's no admission charge. Each stop on the tour offers three sessions daily over three days. Depending on the time of day, invitees are given lunch or breakfast. About 200 attended each session at the first stop in Los Angeles earlier this month.


Consumers also can test BMW of North America's first SUV, the X5; Toyota Motor Sales USA's Land Cruiser; and the Lexus RX300, a sister Toyota brand.

BMW started its own X5 test-drive events last December, but rival vehicles aren't part of that nine-city tour.

Rapp Collins Worldwide, Chicago, handled prospect lists for Mercedes and created direct mail and e-mail invitations. Auto consultancy AMCI, San Diego, runs the events.

Attendees are asked to fill out a survey after the event. Ninety-five percent of consumers at the first event in Los Angeles filled out the survey, Mr. Russell said.

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