SAN FRANCISCO (05/05/2000) - Volkswagen AG began selling special editions of its Beetle exclusively online yesterday, in an aggressive test of the Internet as a direct marketing and sales tool.
The company has made its Web site an integral part of the buying process for two new Beetle color choices, even though only 2,000 units of each color are available and even though consumers are only able to view the cars and begin the buying process online.
To purchase a Beetle in one of the new colors -- Vapor Blue and Reflex Yellow -- consumers visit the VW.com site, select the car they want to buy and enter their personal information. Buyers then negotiate with a local VW representative through an online message board before purchasing the car from their local dealership.
Part interactive marketing campaign and part e-commerce experiment, the online project is Volkswagen's most aggressive effort yet to leverage the Internet.
When VW reintroduced the new Beetle two years ago as a sportier version of the classic Bug, the company marketed the car to younger consumers, who are more likely to be Internet users than other VW car owners.
"We've been evolving our use of the Internet as we've been marketing this car," says Liz Van Zura, Volkswagen's marketing director for America. "We have the youngest demographic in the industry, and we have been looking for ways to reach out to them and do innovative marketing."
Volkswagen launched a national broadcast and print advertising campaign on Monday via traditional media outlets. The spots invited consumers to visit the VW.com site to see the new Beetle colors and to find out more about the online offering. The company began getting inquiries from online buyers on Thursday.
In its first full day online, the VW site generated sales of 376 special edition Beetles and 1,444 leads from visitors who selected a unit for purchase and asked to continue the buying process. Though two-thirds of the Beetles sold were Vapor Blue, Volkswagen said it's too early to conclude that one color is more popular than the other -- the Reflex Yellow Beetle's suggested retail price is US$2,150 more than the Vapor Blue model.
The company's Web site saw three times its average daily traffic yesterday, hosting 95,000 unique visitors to the site. Since Monday, the average time spent on the site by visitors has doubled, up from 8 minutes to 16 minutes.