Car dealer offers second car for free

BRUSSELS Fri Dec 5, 2008 1:31pm EST

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Buy one, get one free: it's a familiar sales pitch for happy-hour cocktails or last season's fashions, but now a Belgian car dealer is luring customers with just that line.

Antwerp-based Cardoen, which sells about 10,000 new and nearly new cars per year, started the promotion at the end of November and said it would run until December 15.

During that period, customers can choose from a range of new, full-price cars -- the cheapest being a 22,800 euro ($28,930) Hyundai van -- and then pick a second free vehicle from a selection that goes up to 14,000 euros.

"People have been coming in from all over Belgium and abroad," Cardoen's Commercial Director Ivo Willems said, adding that Cardoen's eight showrooms had seen more than 10 times their usual number of visitors since the promotion began.

"People will still buy cars, you just have to give them as much advantage as possible, to sell in an innovative way."

Willems said Cardoen was able to run the promotion without losing money because distributors in southern Europe had been so desperate to get cars off their lots that they were selling them to Cardoen at large discounts.

The move underscores how difficult the situation has become for an auto industry buckling under a global economic downturn.

Belgian new car registrations fell 16.4 percent year-on-year in November, according to data released Monday. In Spain, sales nearly halved.

Willems said Cardoen had yet to see an impact on its sales from the downturn.

(Reporting by Anne Jolis; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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