DETROIT -- Mark LaNeve's spacious office on the 39th floor of the Renaissance Center here is strewn with sports memorabilia -- autographed footballs, racing helmets and trophies. His favorite item is a picture he bought off eBay -- a photo of his hero, Joe Namath.
LaNeve, GM North America's vice president of vehicle sales, service and marketing, draws parallels between himself and the legendary quarterback.
They both hail from Beaver Falls, Pa., where football and steel meant everything. Both came from working-class backgrounds, and football gave both a ticket out.
On March 1, LaNeve became General Motors' top marketer. For the past four months, he has played the role of GM's chief cheerleader, crisscrossing the country to meet with dealers and explain the automaker's brand strategy.
More important, LaNeve, 46, has launched two big marketing initiatives: GM's employee discount sale and its value pricing strategy for 2006.
At first glance, those two policies seem contradictory. The GM Employee Discount for Everyone program triggered one of the great blowout summer sales in GM's history, while value pricing will require GM to ease off incentives.
For the 2006 model year, GM has set sticker prices that more closely approximate the transaction prices. But value pricing won't work unless GM controls its inventory of unsold cars and trucks. So LaNeve is using the GM's employee discount sale to trim the automaker's once-huge inventory of unsold vehicles.
This fall, the transition from big incentives to value pricing will require exquisite timing and the nerves of a riverboat gambler -- in other words, an executive who fancies himself to be an automotive Joe Namath.