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SUV makers rev up deals to lift sales

With climbing fuel prices making every trip to the pump more painful, makers of gas-gobbling SUVs are trying to entice customers with new deals and discounts.

General Motors has tacked on $1,000 in rebates to existing offers on its midsize sport-utility vehicles, such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, the Oldsmobile Bravada and Pontiac Aztek, the GMC Envoy and the Buick Rainier and Rendezvous.

Up to $4,500 in cash or 36 months of 0% financing are available with the purchase of a 2004 Dodge Durango from Chrysler through June 1.

And Ford has rolled out a new SUV incentive program called "The Choice," which applies to its Explorer, Expedition and Excursion models as well as its Freestar minivan: Buyers can choose from a $3,000 cash rebate or $2,000 cash back plus zero-interest financing.

After an April that saw slightly decreased incentives for shoppers, inventories are higher than usual right now. That means automakers have to either sell the SUVs faster or produce fewer of them.

To boost the prestige of the gas guzzlers, SUV makers are spicing up their offerings with more high-end flourishes, from bamboo interiors to global positioning systems, said Ashly Knapp, an auto industry analyst with

Advertising is also key, according to Knapp - particularly ads that emphasize the prestige of owning one of the biggest rides on the street. "I've got a big vehicle. I sit above you, high up. I can mow you down off the road," Knapp said.

But in the end, he said, money talks the loudest. "We believe most people are set to buy before they walk into the dealership," he said. "The way the dealer lubricates the deal is just by giving away money. It's the simplest way to go."

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