Pontiac has switched to sports-only advertising for the Bonneville to turn around plummeting sales.
'We just need to relook at our marketing tactics,' said Lynn Myers, general manager of Pontiac-GMC. 'We are not changing the positioning nor our target buyer.'
The Bonneville and its traditional car segment have been struggling.
U.S. sales for the Bonneville in the first six months of this year were down 21 percent compared with the same period last year.
The segment, which includes such cars as the Buick LeSabre and Ford Crown Victoria, was down 16.7 percent for the first six months of this year, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
'It's been perhaps more problematic for Pontiac because we have younger buyers, and the Bonneville is at the top of our lineup,' Myers said. The average Bonneville buyer is 50.
Decreasing ad spending
Pontiac included the Bonneville in about $13 million of media buys for car advertising in the first quarter of this year, or about 21 percent of the division's total measured media spending for the quarter, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
Bonneville ad spending has been declining since the launch of the redesign in 1999, said Bob Kraut, the car's brand manager.
The move to sports-only media will reach the Bonneville's target buyer, Kraut said, because the car and its advertising have a powerful look, and 70 percent of its buyers are male.
The Bonneville may be competing for customers with another five-seat Pontiac, the cheaper Grand Prix. The Bonneville's four-door SE model starts at $25,875, including freight charges, while the Grand Prix's starts at $21,065, including freight. Pontiac sold 60,779 Grand Prixs in the first six months of this year, compared with 24,505 Bonnevilles.
But Kraut said the Grand Prix is not hurting the Bonneville. The Grand Prix buyer is more of a driving enthusiast, he said, while the Bonneville buyer is looking for refinement.
Pontiac's strategy to boost Bonneville sales includes sports-only media buys, direct mail, local events around movie premieres and product placement in TV shows. Media buys for the car had been broader - more national, across many special-interest and upscale categories.
The goal: A test drive
The purpose of direct mail will be to get people to test drive the car. A mailing next month will go to half a million people in General Motors' database, appealing to Pontiac owners and gaining buyers in the entry-level luxury category. They will receive a $50 gift certificate to Sharper Image stores.
The Bonneville is scheduled for a redesign in the 2005 or 2006 model year.
At least one dealer, who sells about seven Bonnevilles out of 65 Pontiacs a month, says the car could pull out of its slump after the Oldsmobile division dies.
'Until the Aurora and its deals are gone, we won't know if we could do 80,000 to 100,000 in sales a year,' said Ed Levy, owner of Golling Pontiac-GMC in Lake Orion, Mich. 'Then the car would have an absolute future.'
Special correspondent Laura Clark Geist contributed to this report.