GM ads assure used car buyer

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General Motors Corp., aiming to double sales of its certified-used vehicles to 60,000 units this year, last week launched the 2001 ad campaign for its certified used vehicle brand.

The pitch also promotes peace of mind. GM recruited used-car shoppers online for research before the estimated $10 million push, and the 17 volunteers agreed to weekly calls or online chat sessions to discuss their buying experience. "They have anxiety about the past of used cars," said Dana Hammer, manager of the certified program for GM, which doesn't allow cars or trucks that have had significant damage or major repairs into its program. The ads "talk about the brand benefits, the peace of mind. That's critical," he said.

GM also learned consumers are still somewhat confused about what a certified used vehicle is, since a variety are on the market from vehicle manufacturers, individual dealers and third parties. But more than 55% of all certified used car intenders prefer manufacturers' certification, said Brad Audet, VP-account manager at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mullen, Wenham, Mass.

Mullen has handled the GM account covering Buick, Chevrolet, GMC, Oldsmobile and Pontiac since the program debuted four years ago. Saturn and Cadillac have separate certified used programs.

Unlike its glitzy national launch, this year's effort is mostly regional, as was last year's. A trio of radio spots and newspaper ads will run in 10 key markets, while the campaign's national overlay will be in USA Today and on the Internet. The more than 1,450 GM dealers who have enrolled in the program can also customize Mullen ads for their use.

No vehicles appear in the ads. The first round of print also touts the special 5.9% financing on select cars through July 31. One print headline about the rate said: "Rate printed twice out of courtesy for those who will undoubtedly do a double take." The radio spots compare two wildly unbalanced options, such as picking a tattoo artist with pro-athlete clients or one who's slightly nearsighted to buying a used car.

The new tagline is "The right way. The right car." The original tag was "Ready for life."

Mr. Hammer said GM uses the certified used cars "almost as an entry-level vehicle" that can contend with new, low-priced models from competitors such as Hyundai Motor America. (GM has admitted it can't make a profit on its entry-level new models.) GM's certified used-car program is also a good way to keep the value of used cars higher in the marketplace, he said.

Competitor BMW of North America said in early June it sold 15,937 of its certified used cars in the first five months of 2001.

Annual surveys on the used-vehicle market by consultancy J.D. Power & Associates revealed consumer awareness about certified cars and trucks rose from 1999 to 2000. But at the same time, the personal value of certification to consumers declined. "It means GM has its work cut out for it," said Dennis Gailbraith, a senior manager at J.D. Power. "They either have to drastically reduce the premium price [for certified used] or promote the heck out of the program and demonstrate its benefits to the consumer."

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