DETROIT -- Add big-city buyers to the list of weak market segments that General Motors is attacking this year.
John Middlebrook, GM vice president for marketing and advertising, says GM recognizes that it cannot let its market share lag in urban areas if it wants to continue to increase its national share.
The company is targeting ethnic minorities.
Market share numbers in one key area show GM's problem. The automaker's light-vehicle share is less than 20 percent in California metro areas, compared with 27.2 percent nationwide for GM in the first five months of this year.
Middlebrook and other GM marketing executives say GM is:
The effort is part of a yearlong emphasis on winning buyers from other brands, Middlebrook says.
John Smith, group vice president for sales, service and marketing, reinforced that point when talking to stock analysts on June 10. "For us, the emphasis is on conquest," Smith said.
GM is increasing its efforts to reach big-city buyers in a quest for a third consecutive year of increased U.S. market share.
Through May 31, GM's light-vehicle share was down 0.9 percentage points from its 28.1 percent share a year ago.
Other GM conquest programs include the 24-hour test drive promotion and the Auto Show in Motion, a traveling program that allows consumers to drive GM and competing vehicles.
The new "Road to redemption" ad campaign is aimed at GM "rejectors." The goal of the campaign is to get on a consideration list by admitting past quality lapses while discussing improvements.
Gordon Wangers, managing partner of Automotive Marketing Consultants in San Diego, says GM's urban effort may face less resistance than attempts to woo other groups.
"I think that their chances are actually better with these groups than with mainstream middle Americans," Wangers says. "I don't think these groups necessarily carry some of the anti-GM prejudice that upscale suburban America does."
CJ Fraleigh, GM's executive director of corporate advertising, says the company will target big-city buyers with an increased advertising budget. GM has said it will nearly double its diversity spending this year, and "that's a fair representation" of metro-area spending, Fraleigh says. He declined to give details.
Although metro markets may include some BMW-driving yuppies, GM's main emphasis is on minorities, he says. "These markets are diversity targets," Fraleigh says.
GM is working to improve its share in California. The greater Los Angeles area is a strong entry-luxury market, Fraleigh says, and the state has a challenging mix of Hispanics, blacks and Asian Americans.
Michael Jackson, GM's general manager for the Western region, says the automaker is taking distinct tacks with different groups.
For example, in Los Angeles, it sponsors the highly rated morning radio show of black comedian Steve Harvey.
In other areas, GM is advertising on Asian-language TV shows.
It will go statewide with a pilot program to ease loan applications for Hispanics by using Spanish-speaking agents, Jackson says.
GM also has initiated a program to train dealers to interact with ethnic groups. GM tutors groups of 40 dealers three times a month, Jackson says.
Dealer groups help
Local dealer marketing groups are crucial in amplifying GM's marketing message and customizing it to local markets. "Our regular marketing efforts and our dealer marketing efforts are fully integrated," Jackson says.
Los Angeles-area dealer Bob Bakshi, who owns Parkview Pontiac-Buick-GMC, Parkview Cadillac and Parkview Hummer in Valencia, Calif., says local marketing group efforts helped him double Cadillac sales in the past two years.
"We saw a dramatic improvement in sales after they started advertising on TV," Bakshi says. "I think it's absolutely essential to have (local marketing groups)."