General Motors is planning a corporate ad campaign to change consumer perception of its vehicle quality, a project internally dubbed the "road to redemption."
It is not known how much GM might put behind the effort, although the automaker spent $198 million in measured media on corporate advertising in 2002, according to Competitive Media Reporting in New York.
GM North America President Gary Cowger confirmed through a spokeswoman that "a quality campaign is something we've been investigating, but we have no campaign to announce."
According to a dealer who asked not to be named, the purpose of the campaign, slated for summer, is to "move the needle" among consumers who don't realize the automaker has improved vehicle quality sharply.
The dealer says the phrase "road to redemption" appears as a copy line in some of the print advertising, and that it is the premise of the overall effort.
But a second dealer says the theme may have changed due to concerns about its frankness voiced at a meeting earlier this year. Executives at McCann-Erickson, GM's corporate agency in Troy, Mich., declined to comment.
Vehicle quality plays a crucial role for buyers, says Joseph Ivers, a partner at J.D. Power and Associates. About one-third of new-vehicle buyers say quality in the first 90 days of ownership is important when shopping for a vehicle, and half cite long-term reliability as a major factor in their pick.
A GM spokesman says the automaker tracks quality internally and expects several of its models to stay in the top of their industry segments.
Ivers says GM has been systematically improving its initial quality since 1998. "GM has established parity in their initial quality, and a lot of their vehicles far exceed that, especially their passenger cars."
GM "lags a bit" in long-term dependability, Iver says, although the automaker has made improving dependability a priority.
Only GM's Buick and Cadillac brands rated above the industry average of 355 problems per 100 vehicles, according to J.D. Power's 2002 long-term dependability study.
The study, released last fall, surveyed more than 30,000 original owners of 1998 model-year vehicles.
When it comes to quality perception, GM brands also didn't fare well in a survey of 113,500 people intending to buy 2003 models, conducted by CNW Marketing/Research. CNW asked them to rank the quality of auto brands, with 10 being the top score.
Cadillac did best among GM brands with a score of 8.9, tied for fifth on the list with Porsche, Volvo and Volkswagen.
The next best GM brand was Saturn, in ninth place with an 8.3.
Jean Halliday writes for Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News.