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December 9, 2008



Bailout? We don't need one.

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Buy one, get one free: It's an old sales pitch for haberdashers with surplus suits to sell. It also worked for Bill Clinton when he sought votes for the presidency on the grounds that his wife, highly regarded attorney Hillary Rodham Clinton, would be an integral part of his administration if he was elected. But you wouldn't think a new-car dealer would go far using it as a lure for customers, even in the current economy, right? Wrong. Not if the dealer in question is Cardoen, one of Belgium's leading retailers. For at least another week, it's advertising that any customer who pays full price for a car or van in time for Christmas may select a second vehicle from one of its showrooms for nothing. Er, provided the second costs no more than €14,000 (US $17,800), that is. For purposes of comparison, imagine buying, say, a Cadillac DTS and adding on a Saturn Ion. But wait: Europe's economy is struggling, too. How can a dealer afford such a promotion without bankrupting itself? Well, says sales director Ivo Willems, it's because distributors elsewhere in Europe were desperate to dispose of unsold cars. In Spain, for instance, sales fell by almost half in November. So Cardoen bought up some of their surplus at big discounts. And since the promotion began, the Antwerp dealer's eight showrooms are reporting "more than 10 times" their usual number of visitors this time of year, even from abroad. "People will still buy cars," Willems says. "You just have to give them as much advantage as possible." He hasn't advised dealers in the US to follow this lead, but he says the economic slump isn't affecting Cardoen's sales – at least, not so far.

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