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Return to vendor - buyer beware

But the offer does come with conditions: GM Holden spokesman John Lindsay says the money-back guarantee must be taken up within 30 days or when the mileage hits 1500km, whichever comes first. And those wanting to take up the offer must prove they've bought another car of at least equal value to the Epica they are handing back.

The move has prompted a warning from the NRMA which says potential buyers should realise it is not just a chance to get a free car for a month.

"People have to be aware of the conditions, they have to be committed to buying a vehicle in 30 days" says NRMA Motoring Services Vehicle Program specialist Jack Haley.

"They can't just have a joy ride. They have to look after it or the factory or dealer won't want to take it back. As long as people are aware of this, it's a good opportunity to evaluate a vehicle for a longer time than they can on a short test drive and find if they really like it." Haley says buyers should still do their homework properly and check out all the options before buying any car.

Lindsay says Holden is not expecting many people to return the vehicle.

"We're very confident in the quality of the product ... it's more of a kind of reassurance for people who are thinking of switching brands" he says.

"The purpose of this offer is to give people that additional confidence when they're buying the car and to give a point of difference in this competitive segment."

And while there are conditions involved, Lindsay says they are mainly to stop people from abusing the money-back offer.

"It hasn't been designed to catch people out. Essentially, it's a genuine offer because we have confidence in the product — we think people will like it" he says.

If customers are not satisfied, they have the opportunity to purchase another car, even from a different manufacturer, provide proof of that purchase such as an agreement, contract or deposit, and then be reimbursed the full amount by Holden.

And that's as long as the Epica is still in good condition. While normal wear and tear is acceptable under the conditions, Lindsay warns that if customers are concerned the car might be damaged in some way, they should check with their dealer to make sure the car meets the conditions before buying a replacement.

For now, other manufacturers are sticking with the more traditional forms of attracting customers. Hyundai and Kia have given the new car market a lower starting price, with their five-door manual Getz and Rio small cars now reduced to $12,990, making them the cheapest on the market.

Renault also recently dropped the price of its Megane manual sedan by up to $3500.

Fiat has taken the extra-features approach, offering more than $1700 worth of equipment in the Punto. And similarly, the limited-edition Suzuki Grand Vitara Trekker adds about $3000 worth of extras.

Glass's Guide operations manager Chris D'Sousa says offering extra equipment is usually a better approach.

"The industry over the years has educated consumers to buy cars at value offers,” he says. "It's far better off marketing value-added, free airconditioning, free this, where the basic price point doesn't change."

D'Sousa says Holden's approach brings a new flavour to the marketplace.

"I think it's different, it hasn't been tried, but it's risky to an extent" he says.

“My view is it's novel. It's a segment that they haven't played in for a long time and they want to make an impact.

"They want to show the public they're confident it's one car the public will like.

"It will be interesting to see what the outcome is. If it's successful, I dare say others will follow suit; if not, it's something to put in the, `Have tried, don't try again (basket)'."

Lindsay says Holden will await the outcome of the campaign before considering whether to extend it to other models.

"This is something that fitted this car and this segment, obviously we'll monitor the success and see if it's a successful deal, it might have future applications.

"But not at this stage."

The other manufacturers will also be watching closely. However, Ford spokeswoman Sinead McAlary says it does not plan to follow suit at present.

"Not as far as I'm aware, but never say never. We tend to do our own thing, not just follow what they do. We work with our own dealers on programs." But they'll be monitoring it, nevertheless.

"We always pay attention to what they do, but we don't follow them" she says.

D'Sousa says Holden is doing it mainly because they're a new entry into this market. "It's one way to establish a bit of a foothold in the segment" he says.

"Personally I think it's exciting, if you're in the market to buy that kind of car, you couldn't afford to walk away, providing it suits your lifestyle."

He says it might also fire up Australian car buyers who tend to take the wait-and-see approach into buying.

But he points out that not all new strategies are a success, even if they have been overseas.

"GM in the US launched a campaign about buying cars at employee pricing. Here, it wasn't as successful" he says. "It'll be interesting to see what happens (with) this."

He adds that the manufacturer is taking a gamble because Epicas returned to dealers can no longer be sold as new cars.

"It's a risk (but) it's different" he says.


How the scheme works

* You can return your Epica to Holden within 30 days of purchase or when the speedo is showing 1500km and claim your full money back;

* The car must be free of damage and be in the same condition as purchased allowing for normal wear and tear;

* You must return the car to the same dealer you bought it from;

* You cannot modify or add any accessories to the car;

* You have to show proof that you have bought another new car (it doesn't have to be a Holden or GM product) of at least equal value to the Epica;

* The scheme applies to private (not fleet) purchases and expires at the end of 2007.


* You get to determine whether the car is suitable to you for 30 days in your normal driving environment away from the pressure of the car yard;

* You will be able to check the car's fuel consumption over the month and get a chance for the whole family to see if the car meets their needs.


* It will become a hassle if you decide to change and be time-consuming to buy another car in the 30 days;

* You will have to transfer registration and insurance twice within a short time;

* Make sure you don't damage it.  


The Verdict

The Epica is better than we expected, but not as good as we had hoped. It drives all right, rides nicely, and is quiet and cushy. The airconditioning is impressive, there is room for three adults in the back, and the boot is roomy.

It looks nice enough and the nose has more instant impact than the VE Commodore. The equipment levels are good but checking the final finish, everywhere from the boot trim to the seat stitching, shows it is Korean.

There are two engine sizes, 2.0-litre and 2.5, and two models, CDX and CDXi, with prices from the $25,990 2.0-litre manual CDX through to $32,990 for the 2.5-litre CDXi automatic with optional leather trim. The engine was designed by Porsche and is almost unique as an inline six that sits transversely across the nose.

More importantly, at least for GM Holden, is fuel economy, which ranges from 8.2-litres per 100km for the 2.0-litre manual to 9.3-litres per 100km in the five-speed automatic, figures that are claimed to be better than Toyota Camry and as good as any of its main rivals.

Driving the Epica, we enjoyed the 2.5 automatic — there is no manual with the bigger engine — but the 2.0-litre was totally underwhelming and is not an engine we would recommend. No wonder the fuel economy is so good.

The 2.5 is solid without doing anything outstanding, but it will do the job and there is always the economy. However, the Epica will struggle against the Toyota Camry.

There is no stability control, as well as a speed-limited spare on a metal rim. Still, the Epica is priced right and that, particularly with an economy push and a money-back guarantee, almost assures its success.

It is never going to win any awards in Australia, but it is sound and sensible transport and, with a bottom line from $25,990, it will do the job.

Fast facts

Holden Epica

Price: $25,990-$32,990

Engine: 6-cylinder 2.0-litre 105kW@6400rpm, 195Nm@2600rpm

6-cylinder 2.5-litre 115kW@5800rpm, 237Nm@2600rpm

Transmission: 5-speed manual and automatic, front-wheel-drive

Fuel: 8.2L/ and 9.3L/100km

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