Automakers are promoting their brands on cell phones and personal digital assistants, especially to reach young adults.
In the past year, Cadillac, BMW and Pontiac brands have used so-called mobile marketing to help introduce new or redesigned models.
Advocates say the practice generates customer data, drives visits to dealerships and boosts customer loyalty.
The delivery of text messages, Web links, interactive games and contests by mobile phone has been popular in Europe and Asia for years. But mobile marketing is just hitting its stride in the United States.
The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association estimates there are more than 180 million U.S. wireless phone subscribers. Three-fifths of those consumers use their phones to send and receive e-mail, take pictures, watch videos and listen to music, the association says.
BMW of North America LLC launched the redesigned 3 series with its first U.S. mobile marketing campaign. At this year's Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles auto shows, BMW distributed a card with a phone number that users of cell phones with Internet access could call.
Callers got a text message on their phones that included a link to a Web site offering photos and product data about the 3 series. They also could sign up to get information from BMW on their cell phones.