Oldsmobile, local advertising and new products were the hot topics at the General Motors make meeting at the NADA convention.
Each of the four GM executives who delivered opening remarks and answered questions addressed the elimination of Oldsmobile in what one dealer described as a 'contrite' manner.
GM CEO Rick Wagoner described the decision to eliminate Oldsmobile as a 'tough call,' that would not be reversed. He saidthe decision came at a time when GM faced large product development investments. He said he did not intend to eliminate any more divisions during what he hopes will be a long tenure as GM's CEO.
'I don't want to go through this again,' he told dealers.
Though the GM executives encouraged dealers to raise Oldsmobile-related issues at the Oldsmobile make meeting the next day, about half of the questions and comments at the GM meeting were about Oldsmobile, dealers said.
Ron Zarrella, president of GM North America, said GM will introduce almost 40 new vehicles in North America by 2003 and showed some of those products on giant screens. Among them:
The Pontiac Vibe, a sport wagon that enters production the first quarter of next year.
A mid-sized pickup from Chevrolet that will be available in a variety of cab and bed configurations. No introduction date was given.
A Chevrolet crossover that 'reinvents the family sedan' by combining the qualities of a sport-utility and a car. No introduction date was offered.
The 2002 Cadillac Escalade sport-utility, as well as the 2002 Escalade EXT and 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche, which marry a sport-utility cabin with a pickup bed.
The ultra-luxury 2002 Cadillac CLR Luxury Roadster.
A Saab crossover with flexible seating for up to seven people and versatile use of space for large items and cargo. An introduction date was not given.
The Buick Rendezvous, GMC Envoy, Chevrolet Trailblazer and Oldsmobile Bravada, 2002 sport-utilities that go on sale this spring.
Despite the new-product showcase, two dealers worried that other brands might share Oldsmobile's fate. One dealer said Buick wasn't getting its share of new products, with only one on the list shown by GM.
Another dealer noted GMC 'was supposed to be the Cadillac of trucks, and now you've given our truck to Cadillac.'
GM executives said there would be more differentiation with GMC products in the future with features such as QuadraSteer four-wheel steering, which will be exclusive to GMC for a year beginning in 2002.
A Pontiac-GMC dealer's comment regarding the Aztek drew a chuckle from the crowd. 'You can't get past ugly' with the Aztek, he noted, 'and even people who do get past the look think it's too expensive.'
GM executives said a mild restyling and pricing change is under way.
Local ad groups
In response to chronic dealer complaints about the lack of local advertising, Michael Grimaldi, GM vice president of field sales, service and parts, outlined GM's plan to create local dealer advertising groups.
GM, which has been running pilots in various markets, hopes to form at least 50 such groups in 2001. To form a group, at least 75 percent of the local dealers must volunteer to participate. He encouraged dealers to sign up the first half of this year to get started.
The new local advertising initiative will provide additional funding, and GM will add 48 local advertising and marketing managers in its regions.
'Our top priority,' Grimaldi said, 'is to re-engage GM dealers in local advertising to increase our collective share of voice to increase sales and market share.'