GM Confesses to Being Behind Mysterious '230' Website

Viral Campaign Generated Buzz for 230 Mile-per-Gallon Chevy Volt Plug-in

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Fritz Henderson, CEO of General Motors Co., admitted this morning in a live webcast that the automaker was indeed behind the mysterious, unbranded website whatis230.com, as first reported here last week.

General Motors Co. CEO Fritz Henderson at a live webcast this morning.
General Motors Co. CEO Fritz Henderson at a live webcast this morning. Credit: GM
The number's significance, Mr. Henderson said, is that the Chevrolet Volt plug-in car due later this year is expected to get city fuel economy of at least 230 miles per gallon, or 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles. That performance, based on fuel-economy methodology being developed for plug-in cars by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would make the Volt the first mass-produced vehicle to achieve triple-digit fuel economy. Mr. Henderson said GM expects the Volt could be totally recharged for about 40 cents.

GM expects to produce roughly 60,000 of first-generation Volts, which are scheduled to go on sale in late 2010 as 2011 models.

So why run a blind teaser campaign? Mr. Henderson said that in order to win a new generation of buyers, "we need to relate to people between 16 and 30. They communicate differently and we need to make sure we plug into that. It's going to change advertising and it's going to change marketing and, over time, how we sell cars."

Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., created the 230 site. Chevrolet's longtime agency of record subcontracted with All Terrain, Chicago, which activated street teams to distribute hats and T-shirts with whatis230.com in several major cities.

GM also is ready to start its car-selling pilot on eBay, which Mr. Henderson announced a month ago in a webcast the day the new GM exited from reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Mr. Henderson said the program extends the showroom into Americans' living rooms and "makes the customer the center of our universe."

He also vowed to put more of GM's communications resources to its four core vehicle brands -- Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC -- instead of the GM brand, because "we don't go to market as GM." This move is likely to severely slash the amount of work handled by McCann Erickson, Birmingham, Mich., which has GM's corporate account.

The GM chief's webcast today followed a session yesterday with invited consumers, many of whom he described as past GM owners and "thoughtful critics" of the automaker on its blog at fastlane.gmblogs.com. GM today launched a microsite called The Lab, which will feature future projects and will be another place for consumers to share their reactions. The marketer said visitors who provide detailed demographic information may be invited to participate at a deeper level in future sessions.

In other announcements today, Mr. Henderson said:

  • GM plans to launch 25 new models arriving between now and 2011.
  • Chevrolet will have 10 new models, including the new Cruze small car next year.
  • Cadillac will have five new models, including an entry luxury-sport sedan, smaller than the CTS, to compete in that growing segment.
  • Buick and GMC are adding 10 new entries, including a Buick plug-in hybrid compact crossover, in 2011.

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