September 20, 2012 / 5:13 PM / 5 years ago

GM's Opel tempts car buyers with return guarantee

A clock shows five to twelve at the Opel plant of Bochum in March 28, 2012.Ina Fassbender

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - In a bid to repair its sickly brand image, General Motors' (GM.N) ailing European arm Opel is offering German consumers the chance to hand back the keys to their brand new car with no questions asked and walk away free of charge.

Running under the slogan "thrilled or just return it", the offer is limited to either 30 days or 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) and is only valid in its home market of Germany, the maker of the Astra said on Thursday.

"We want to win new fans of the brand with this deal. Whoever drives our cars for the first time will quickly be convinced of the quality and innovation of our cars," Opel interim chief Thomas Sedran said in a statement.

A spokesman said the campaign would last until further notice and added that there were no plans at present to extend the offer outside of Germany.

Opel has suffered in particular from a "loser image" among large swathes of German consumers who have watched the company go through multiple restructurings and even a failed disposal in 2009, and executives have admitted that its brand is heavily tarnished in Germany.

"You can see it from two perspectives: it lowers the hurdle for a purchase by giving the dealer an additional sales argument but it also can appear in the minds of a buyer as if the company is on the verge of desperation," said Stefan Bratzel, head of the CAM auto industry think-tank in Bergisch Gladbach.

Korean rival Hyundai (005380.KS) made a splash in the United States with a similar offer during the recession in 2009, however, soothing new car buyers with the assurance that they could always hand back the keys if they lost their job in a campaign generally believed to have been a coup.

Assuming Opel customers don't damage the car, the company only plans to send a token bill should the car be returned with a high distance reading. For every 1,000 kilometers driven, a symbolic charge of 0.67 percent of the retail price would be levied.

For a 25,000 euro ($32,400) car, that would translate to about 167 euros, for example.

Reporting By Christiaan Hetzner; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford

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