2006 Mercedes-Benz SLR
The 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, a ‘halo car’ that was meant to boost the company’s image as a maker of exclusive, high-performance vehicles, is proving to be a tough sell.
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updated 11/10/2006 8:16:52 AM ET 2006-11-10T13:16:52

Sleepy towns and supercars don’t mix. The city of Salisbury, Md., with a population just over 20,000, might seem like a great place to start a family, but it’s apparently a terrible place to try to sell a $450,000 supercar.

Chris Hagel, marketing director at the Pohanka Automotive Group of Salisbury, is raffling off a silver 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren after the original buyer backed out last Christmas. A suitable owner has yet to materialize. “If it were New York or Washington D.C., then it would probably be a lot easier to sell it,” Hagel said. He has received several offers to buy the exotic sports car, but would’ve taken a loss in each case, so he declined them.

This unlikely raffle points to what some industry watchers say is a larger problem facing Mercedes-Benz: lackluster sales of a “halo car” that was meant to boost the company’s image as a maker of exclusive, high-performance vehicles. By contrast, other manufacturers of exotic sports cars in recent years, such as Bentley, Ferrari and Lamborghini, have months-long wait lists for every car they sell.

Sales of the SLR McLaren, which debuted as a 2005 model, are down 6.9 percent from last year through the first nine months of 2006, according to CNW Marketing Research. With a yearly production capacity of 500 vehicles, Mercedes-Benz has sold only 134 SLR McLarens so far this year. Mercedes-Benz sold 200 SLR McLarens last year. “The SLR has performed well in the U.S.," said Donna Boland, manager of corporate communications, in an e-mail. "It captured 8 percent market share [last year] in a segment dominated by vehicles half its price,” she said.

The SLR McLaren features a 617-hp supercharged V12 engine capable of launching the car to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and on to a top speed of more than 207 mph. It features exotic carbon-fiber body panels and represents the ultimate in Mercedes-Benz engineering.

After receiving a gaming license from the Wicomico County Sherriff’s Office in mid-May, Hagel has set about selling 5,000 raffle tickets for the dealership’s 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren at $100 each. The raffle drawing is on Dec. 11.

Hagel has already sold 3,800 tickets and hopes to find takers for at least 600 more to cover his initial investment in the car. If he doesn’t, then the raffle prize will be half of the overall pot — the other half will go to a local Toys for Tots charity. Hagel emphasized that he is bent on selling all 5,000 tickets, though.

Chris Hagel
Chris Hagel
Chris Hagel, marketing director at the Pohanka Automotive Group of Salisbury, is shown with the 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

Once Hagel has sold 4,400 tickets, all proceeds from raffle ticket sales after that would go to the charity. The raffle winner will have the option of taking a $300,000 monetary prize instead of the car.

“It’s been a lot of work,” said Hagel, who toured car and boat shows to promote his raffle before setting up the Web site www.mclarenraffle.com. Through the site he’s sold tickets from New York to California and around the globe to places as far flung as Brazil, India and Vietnam.

Hagel continues to promote the car in person. This week he plans to show off the SLR McLaren at the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Dover, Del., during a jazz and wine festival. He expects to sell the remaining 1,200 tickets in the next few weeks.

© 2013 Forbes.com

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