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Court Upholds Supermarket Car Sales

May 18, 2001

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ A German supermarket chain can continue selling Fiat subcompact cars along with toilet paper, bratwurst and other items, a state court ruled Friday.

The court rejected Italian automaker Fiat’s request to halt the special offer, brushing off the company’s arguments that played in part on conservative German buying habits and the lack of a U.S.-style discount and sale culture.

``A salesman can decide for himself how to sell his wares,″ Judge Roland Stumpp declared in the southwestern city of Offenburg.

Fiat accused the Edeka supermarket chain of misleading customers in publicizing the deal launched last week, which offers shoppers a 23,000-mark ($10,850) Fiat Punto as part of two package deals that also include items such as a mobile phone or laptop computer.

Fiat said it would appeal the ruling.

``I don’t see a chance of Edeka delivering these cars to a single customer,″ Fiat spokesman Thomas Casper said.

Nearly 100 people placed orders with Edeka for the package, but they’re not obligated to pay until the legal wrangling is settled, Edeka spokesman Duschan Gert said Friday.

Gert said the supermarket chain has gotten inquiries about the package deal from more than 20,000 people online.

``A lot of people are wondering whether this offer is good or not,″ he said. ``Once that’s settled, we are expecting a lot more orders.″

Fiat argued in part that the deal violated a German retail law that prevents stores from bundling together different goods with an umbrella price tag, for fear of deceiving the buyer.

The court rejected that claim, saying that shoppers were smart enough to compare the prices themselves, as long as customers clearly understand what items are for sale.

Fiat argued that the deal undermined its sales network in Germany and that Edeka has no legal contract allowing it to resell the cars.

Gert said Edeka has a contract with an intermediary that gets around working directly with Fiat.

Edeka agreed last week not to use the Fiat brand name in the deals’ advertisements and stopped advertising on the Internet, but the sale is ongoing at its stores in Baden-Wuerttemberg state, the only region in Germany where the offer is valid.

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