The Big 3 are turning to brand campaigns to export more North American-made vehicles.
According to DRI/McGraw-Hill, the Lexington, Mass., market forecasting firm, Big 3 exports from North America will rise from 359,721 in 1996 to about 400,000 in 1997.
But unlike in the past, when the Big 3 assumed consumers would buy their vehicles with little marketing support, U.S. automakers are now cultivating brand images overseas.
The passive approach 'didn't work in Germany. Why would it work in Thailand?' said David Van Peursem, managing partner for the Asia Pacific region at Bozell Worldwide Inc., Chrysler's ad agency.
The Big 3 export the products, but their ad agencies must create the brand images and establish them in new markets.
So the ad agencies have set up regional headquarters staffed by marketing teams in each targeted country.
Just last Wednesday, July 9, Van Peursem moved to Japan where he will be president of Bozell's Tokyo office and run the day-to-day operations of its Asia Pacific Chrysler account.
As they put more people on the ground, the Big 3's ad agencies have learned that there is no cookie-cutter formula to establish a brand in a foreign market. In Latin America, for example, American-made is a positive.
'So to go down there is not quite as tough as going to Europe or what we're facing in Asia Pacific,' said James Moore, the Bozell executive vice president in charge of the agency's international work for Chrysler.
The agencies also have learned that in some foreign markets, like Argentina, the best method of communication is TV. In others, like Brazil, it is print. And then there's word of mouth.
'Friends get together and they talk. That's the entertainment in many parts of the Middle East. So you create social events, literally taking caravans, setting up exhibits and ride and drives,' said John Costin, executive director of General Motors' international product center in Detroit.
Few of the Big 3 export vehicles likely will become volume sellers because import duties make them too expensive.
In the Asia Pacific region, for example, Ford's Explorer, Mustang and Taurus are specialty products, said Peter Schweitzer, president of Ford's ad agency, J. Walter Thompson USA Inc. 'You're competing with Mercedes, Volkswagen and other importers.'
So why do the Big 3 bother with brand imagery overseas? 'They want to establish (their) brands until they get (assembly plants) on the ground,' said Kurt Brown, director of global automotive forecasting at DRI/McGraw-Hill.
'As the world market evolves,' said Lincoln Merrihew, analyst with the consulting firm J.D. Power and Associates, 'there's going to be a lot more ebb and flow of components and vehicles across borders.'
European and Japanese manufacturers are also pushing exports. Brown said about 20 automotive plants are targeted for Latin and South America during the next five years.
Chrysler no longer creates a marketing campaign for each vehicle it exports to the Asia Pacific region. It now emphasizes the Chrysler brand for its cars and minivans. The brand campaign features the Neon, Voyager, Caravan, Concorde, Vision, LHS and Stratus. All the vehicles have Chrysler nameplates overseas.
The new tag line for Asia Pacific is, 'What's New to Your World.'
'We're trying to communicate that we have products that are good looking and exciting to drive,' said Randy Ewers, director of marketing for Chrysler's Asia Pacific export operation.
Still, the automaker must tailor the campaign to individual countries. In Korea and Taiwan, for example, Chrysler is creating a market for minivans by telling consumers the Voyager is a new way to transport the kids, rather than by backpack or bicycle.
Van Puersem warns of being culturally unaware. 'You cannot put Korean talent (actors) in a commercial you intend to show in Japan or Taiwan,' he said.
'Ford Today,' a revolving series of 60-second TV commercials created for Australia and New Zealand, is now being used in five other countries: Chile, Egypt, Peru, Russia and Uruguay.
The series uses native actors, speaking their languages, and is culturally tailored to the target country.
The infomercial, as it is called internally, is about what is new at Ford, such as safety improvements or new products. 'It's brand development,' said Mike Auld, Ford's director of worldwide direct marketing.
Ford also tailors products for specific countries. For example, it is about to launch the Mercury Mystique, not the Ford Contour, in South Korea. Ford's market research shows that interior and exterior styling of the Mystique will appeal to Korean consumers.
'They like a grille, a lot of chrome, and the LS package offers a lot of wood grain and leather,' Auld said. It will be sold as the Ford Mercury Mystique.
In the Middle East, the Mercury Grand Marquis is considered an upscale Ford and appeals to young buyers, Auld said, while the Ford Crown Victoria is a major fleet vehicle.
GM has made Chevrolet and Cadillac its export brands from North America. GM subsidiary Saturn Corp. has its own export program.
The Corvette is the locomotive for Chevrolet exports, said Costin. 'It's a niche product, but it will be the umbrella (halo) of the brand.'
Costin said he believes trucks, particularly sport-utilities, offer Chevrolet's best opportunity overseas.