GENEVA -- General Motors will give European consumers the chance to test drive its Opel and Vauxhall brand vehicles, deploying a fleet of 35,000 cars in 40 countries, the automaker said on Tuesday.
The "Million Mile Test Drive", which a GM executive said will cost a "significant" sum, is similar to GM's 24-hour test program in the United States. Officials have said that the test drive program has helped improve the perception of GM vehicles in the United States.
"We believe consumers have to decide for themselves how far the Opel and Vauxhall brands have come," GM Europe Chairman Fritz Henderson told reporters following a news conference at the Geneva auto show.
The program, the latest marketing program in the highly competitive European market, will last at least three months and could be expanded to other GM brands such as Chevrolet and Saab, Henderson said.
"Absolutely, it's a significant cost," he said when asked by reporters about the expense of the program. "What the actual cost is I'm not going to get into that this morning."
Advertising for the program begins in Germany on Tuesday, with ads featuring provocative taglines "Admire Me!" and "Challenge Me!". The test drive program will roll into other countries in coming weeks, he said.
Costs of the program include maintaining the fleet of test drive vehicles, liability, insurance, maintenance and a discount when GM eventually sells the test vehicles, he said.
GM Europe lost $976 million last year, despite a slight rise in its market share to 9.5 percent in 2004 from 9.3 percent in 2003.
This year, GM has set a target of cutting those losses to $500 million, excluding the costs of a restructuring program to pay for thousands of job cuts. GM officials said the charge will be "front-loaded", but did not specify whether it will be taken in the first or second quarter, or the amount.
The test drive will help convince consumers that the quality of Opels and Vauxhalls have improved in recent years, Henderson said.
"I think it's quite clear that customers' perceptions, both sides, lag. Whether you try to bring the brand up to where the product is, or where the quality is. Or in fact when you're actually declining. That's not the case in our case," he said.
GM hopes to sell many of the fleet of 35,000 test drive cars to consumers rather than put them up for auction after the program ends, Henderson said. He does not expect the program to depress the residual value of Opel and Vauxhall cars already on the market.
In February, Opel launched a pilot fleet of 10,000 test cars in a campaign titled "Germany does the Opel Test"