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Oldsmobile Tries to Woo Buyers With New Program

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LOVE it or leave it. Oldsmobile is hoping that's an offer potential buyers will find too good to refuse. As part of its new ``Oldsmobile Edge'' customer-satisfaction program, the General Motors division will permit dissatisfied buyers to return their cars to the dealership within the first 30 days or 1,500 miles for full credit toward another Olds. Though other GM divisions have experimented with similar return programs in the past, this is by far the most comprehensive in the industry, covering every 1990 Oldsmobile.

There are two other elements to the Edge, including a three-year, 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with a $100 per visit deductible after the first year. During the warranty period, Oldsmobile will also provide customers with 24-hour roadside assistance, including a trip-interruption program covering an owner who might otherwise be stranded overnight more than 150 miles from home. According to Michael Losh, the division's general manager, ``We've got to stand behind our products. Customers expect that more and more every day.''

Oldsmobile executives say their willingness to offer the new program, particularly the car-swap guarantee, results from a growing confidence in division products, which had suffered from quality-control problems in recent years.

Mr. Losh says only about 0.5 percent of Olds buyers actually returned their cars during a test of the program, and ``half of them come back because they decided they needed a bigger car, a smaller car, or maybe a four-door'' instead of a coupe. The others returned their cars because of mechanical or other product problems.

Critics point out that a customer can only swap for another Olds. Might Oldsmobile eventually go the logical next step and offer a dissatisfied buyer his or her money back? Losh will only say ``that's under consideration.''

Although the Oldsmobile Edge seems to signify a growing self-confidence on the part of the upscale GM marketing division, some observers also view it as a sign of desperation.

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