GM launches campaign to ease credit worries, build traffic

UPDATED: 10/15/08 11:07 pm EDT General Motors last week began an unprecedented marketing campaign designed to reassure U.S. customers that they can still obtain auto loans through GM dealerships even though credit through the automaker’s in-house lender remains tight.

For the first time, GM will promote dealer financing through lenders other than GMAC Financial Services, the automaker’s partially owned captive finance unit. The company also will tout the expertise of dealership finance and insurance professionals.

The campaign -- called “Financing That Fits” -- follows GMAC’s announcement Monday that it would only finance customers with credit scores of 700 or higher.

“GMAC is still a very important partner,” said Jim Bunnell, executive director of GM’s channel support group, in an interview with Automotive News. “Over time, a large chunk of the business went to GMAC. But if you look at the last 60 days -- in August and September -- well over 80 percent of all the business went to outside banks and credit unions.”

Bunnell said GMAC’s share of GM dealer finance business was typically about 20 percent or slightly higher at that time of year. He could not provide a comparable figure for August and September of 2007.

The multimedia campaign promotes GM’s cash-back deals up to $6,000 on every 2008 vehicle left in stock.

GM officials refused to disclose the cost of the campaign, which will appear in major markets nationwide through Nov. 3. But the campaign will involve incremental spending, said Jim Campbell, GM’s director of marketing and incentives.

The “Financing That Fits” message will be integrated with existing television and Internet advertising and appear on newly developed newspaper and radio spots.

“Consumers are getting a big dose of news and the perception that financing is not as readily available,” Campbell said.

That perception, along with the tough economic news of the last few weeks, has contributed to a severe slowdown of shoppers in the showroom, dealers told Automotive News. That perception wasn’t helped by GMAC’s Monday announcement of stricter lending policies.

So GM executives want to make sure those customers don’t turn away from GM dealerships.

“The finance managers at GM stores have a way to find financing that fits their needs,” Campbell said.

GM officials noted that one tool GM dealerships can use is Route One, a Web-based system that gives dealerships access to hundreds of lenders. The new ads will not mention Route One specifically.

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com

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