General Motors is reaching out to the nation's mushrooming Hispanic population with new initiatives in California and Florida.
Hispanic dealers, frustrated by the automaker's past inaction, say it's about time.
The initiatives will include more event sponsorships and more advertisements and promotions tailor-made for the two states' diverse Hispanic communities. GM's Southeast Region already is claiming success in southern Florida, where the region launched a Hispanic-targeted marketing campaign in September.
During September and October, retail sales for GM in the four-county area around Miami rose 10.4 percent. For comparison, GM's national sales rose 6.4 percent.
In California, however, sales remain dismal. During the first nine months of 1999, GM's share of the California new-vehicle market dropped to 20.1 percent, according to Polk Co., well below GM's 29.7 percent share for the nation.
As recently as 1995, GM had 24.2 percent of the California market.
GM has charged Patricia Roberts, a GM marketing veteran, with leading the California Hispanic initiative. On Nov. 1, Roberts took on the new position of diversity marketing manager for the 12-state Western Region.
'The reason I'm involved in this particular job now is we indeed need to put more emphasis on reaching our diverse markets and building relationships in those communities,' Roberts said.
Hispanic dealers say GM could be doing a lot better if it targeted Southern California's nonAnglo population, particularly the 6 million Hispanics in the Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County area.
Instead, Toyota is No. 1 among Hispanics.
During the 1998 model year, Toyota had 19.6 percent of the Hispanic market in Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange counties, well ahead of GM's 16.1 percent, Roberts said, citing vehicle registration data from Polk. Honda's share of the market was 14.8 percent.
'The moment they become financially able to buy their vehicle of choice, it's not from General Motors,' said Edgar Soto, who runs Glendora Chevrolet in Glendora, Calif., through GM's minority dealer development program.
GM needs to follow Toyota's lead and get seriously involved in the Hispanic community, Soto said. 'If they're going to be halfhearted about it, they might as well not,' he said.
ACTION IN FLORIDA
'I spent three years in California waiting for something to happen,' said dealer Lomberto Perez, formerly of Pomona Buick-Pontiac-GMC near Los Angeles.
Perez, 51, is finally seeing action from GM in his new location, AutoCity Buick-Pontiac-GMC in Homestead, Fla.
There, GM's Southeast Region has begun targeting the nation's third largest metropolitan Hispanic population in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area.
Beginning in September, GM's Southeast Region sponsored several events leading up to and during October's Hispanic Heritage Month. The campaign also included direct mailings, TV, radio and print ads targeting Hispanic buyers in four counties - Dade (Miami), Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach - and a $500 incentive to residents of the four counties.
GM also sponsored the Legacy of Excellence Awards where it recognized several Hispanic families for their contributions to the communities.
'We seem to have a successful formula here,' said Ed Berger, leader of the campaign and the regional marketing manager for Chevrolet.
'We transformed what were purely promotional events in the Hispanic community, and we expanded them into fully integrated marketing programs,' Berger said.
In March, GM will sponsor the annual Hispanic 'Carnaval' in Coral Gables, Fla.
'It builds a good will into the brand that during the whole year will translate into sales,' Perez said.
During the September-October period, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Oldsmobile were the big winners. Chevrolet retail car sales for the Miami area rose 11.5 percent, compared with an increase of 5.6 percent nationally. Pontiac and Oldsmobile retail car sales rose 23.4 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively, Berger said.
'In just about every way we can measure it, the two-month promotion had a pretty profound effect on sales,' Berger said.