GM BRAND WILL CHARGE UP ON ELECTRIC CAR; EV1 PLAN AIMS TO BURNISH CORPORATE IMAGE TO BUILD CONSUMER LOYALTY

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While Saturn retailers will handle distribution of the first mass-marketed electric vehicle, parent General Motors Corp. is looking for the biggest image ruboff.

That's why the two-seat coupe making its debut this fall will be branded as GM, the first time in the automaker's 88-year history that it has put the corporate badge on a car or truck.

FOCUS ON GM

"That vehicle has unique technology that can play a big role going forward, and we want General Motors to get the recognition and the equity that it builds," said Ronald Zarrella, group VP for North American sales, service and marketing.

That appears inconsistent with GM's recent moves to brand management, in which it has begun to put more emphasis on individual model names like Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire. But Mr. Zarrella said GM recognizes that a single model, or even a single division, can't meet the changing needs of many of its customers over a period of years. "Developing loyalty to the General Motors brand, given that no one division can meet all a customer's needs, becomes very important," Mr. Zarrella said last week during the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit.

JUST THE BEGINNING

While marketing the new electric vehicle as the GM EV1 is one step, Mr. Zarrella said GM marketing officials are only "at the front end of discussions" on how to keep customers in the family.

Down the road, that could mean an increased role for corporate image advertising, handled by N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York and Detroit. It's estimated GM currently budgets about $20 million a year for corporate ads.

About 25 Saturn retailers in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., will be the first to sell the $35,000 GM EV1, equipped with a lead-acid battery that will give it about a 70-to-90 mile range before recharging.

Saturn agency Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, will handle advertising (AA, Jan. 8), but the GM EV1 campaign will be distinct from other Saturn advertising, said Joe Kennedy, VP-sales, service and marketing.

Media advertising will play a minor role at the start, with Saturn counting heavily on public relations and direct marketing to reach a narrow target market.

Saturn Corp. President Donald Hudler said Saturn retailers were chosen because of their commitment to customer care.

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