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Car Discounts Available To Officials, Journalists, Others

March 26, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Discounts like the one presidential aide Michael Deaver got on a luxury car in Germany are commonly available to diplomats, government officials and others - including journalists or athletes - from automobile firms willing to cut 5 to 25 percent off their prices.

It doesn’t necessarily require a visit to Europe, and there’s a deal for Fords, as well as BMWs or Mercedes.

Ford Motor Co. offers discounts of 5 percent to 10 percent to American and foreign diplomats, journalists and high-visibility officials such as mayors.

″Our focus is trying to convert people to our products,″ said Ford spokesman Robert Waite.

Other car company officials also described their discount policies as a form of sales promotion or as a courtesy to people with whom the firms have a business relationship. None would identify customers who had taken advantage of the discounts.

Deaver, the deputy White House chief of staff, and three unidentified White House officials received discounts of up to 25 percent on BMWs when they were in Germany last month preparing for an upcoming presidential visit.

The White House counsel said discounts like Deaver’s are allowed as long as they ″are available to all government employees or a defined class of people.″ He issued new guidelines requiring an employee who seeks a discount to stay abroad for at least 30 days.

For diplomats, discounts on cars and other items are not uncommon, said State Department spokeswoman Diane Dillard.

″Sometimes people are looking for a way to get business,″ she said, adding there is no prohibition against accepting deals provided by merchants around the world.

Car discounts range from Volkswagen of America Inc.‘s $500-$1,000 dealer rebate for VIPs, including the firm’s vendors and suppliers, to Mercedes-Benz’ 5 percent discount for ″opinion-leaders,″ including athletes and certain journalists.

According to spokesman Art Garner, Toyota Motor Co. sometimes will agree to sell a car at just over dealer cost. Vendors, journalists and other ″friends of the company″ have qualified in the past, he said.

American Honda, another Japanese firm, said it offers no discounts.

″Some of the companies do (discount), and we have in the past, but we don’t now,″ said General Motors spokesman Don Postma. He said he didn’t know when or why the practice ceased at GM, but he added, ″Practices are quite different overseas.″

Mercedes-Benz of North America, whose cars sell for a minimum of $20,000, offers 5 percent off in both the United States and Germany, according to spokeman Leo Levine. In addition, American diplomats can get 10 percent off if the car is purchased from Mercedes’ parent company, Daimler-Benz, he said.

″Not many journalists get it from us because they usually can’t afford our cars,″ Levine added. Even so, he said, some have taken discounts despite ethics codes so strict ″you can’t even buy lunch″ for a reporter.

Tom McGurn, a spokesman for BMW of North America Inc., said the least- expensive BMW retails for about $16,430 in the United States. An American tourist traveling to Germany can buy the car for $13,250, and a foreign diplomat in Germany pays $12,190.

BMW gives some business contacts, such as BMW’s advertising firm, a price break.

Many news organizations, including The Associated Press, have policies prohibiting employees from accepting commercial discounts because of their professional status. Nevertheless, these policies have not always been effective - several car company officials said AP staffers were among those receiving bargains.

″We consider it improper for an AP staffer to accept special discounts, in the United States or abroad,″ said Walter R. Mears, executive editor of the AP. ″This policy evidently has not been clear to all of our people. The Deaver episode should serve as a reminder.″

For example, Kent Bernhard, executive editor of The Detroit Free Press, said that in buying a car staffers are ″not to use or attempt to use any influence they may or may not have because they work for the Free Press.″ He said there would be ″serious consequences″ if a staff member violated this rule.

″It is Newsweek policy not to accept perks,″ said Richard M. Smith, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. He said he was ″completely unaware″ of any staffer ″getting perks or discounts for cars.″

At The New York Times, William Stockton, assistant to the executive editor, said the paper does not ″specifically forbid″ automobile discounts.

He called discounts a ″gray area,″ but said he would interpret Times policy as forbidding automobile discounts.

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