GM LOOKING TO WOO DEVELOPING CLOUT OF FEMALES:CARMAKER SEEKS TO INCREASE ITS APPEAL TO WOMEN AT DEALERSHIPS

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General Motors Corp. is changing the way it markets to women, who have increasingly bought more of its vehicles every year since 1993.

In addition to individual efforts of its car divisions, the North American Operations unit of GM is taking a more active role, crafting programs the divisions can adapt to their purposes.

"With 50% of industry sales, it's not a niche market anymore," said Lynn Myers, category director at GM's Pontiac division, which last year sold 52% of all its vehicles to women.

Women's clout in car buying is huge-and still growing. Industrywide in 1995, women bought 53% of all cars and 26% of trucks, Chrysler Corp. reported earlier this year.

GM said women bought 35.7% of its cars and 29.2% of its trucks last year. Chrysler sells 47% of its cars to women and 30% of trucks, based on a recent sales survey, a spokesman said.

AN EFFORT TO ATTRACT WOMEN

Women have always been important to GM's Buick division, "but until now we haven't made a concerted effort to attract women," said Cindy McColley, who as shows and exhibits manager heads diversity marketing for the marque.

"Brand managers have to include diversity in their marketing plans," Ms. McColley said.

Among GM's new initiatives, which range from advertising to promotions, events and other efforts in relationship marketing:

Buick is considering aligning with a fashion magazine.

Chevrolet will sponsor the American Business Women's Association convention in Charlotte, N.C., this September.

GMC started using a female alone in a Jimmy print ad last month matched by a separate one with a man to reflect the vehicle's 50/50 ownership split between the sexes. McCann-Erickson, Troy, Mich., handles.

Cadillac is stepping up its sponsorships at professional women's events this year, including the International Women's Business Forum in Boston this fall.

The shift in GM marketing started in 1993, sparked by research that showed women were neutral about the GM brand. Men ran either hot or cold, said Art Spinella, VP at CNW Marketing/Research, which did part of the research.

"There was a lot of potential for GM if it concentrated on the women's market," Mr. Spinella said.

As part of that research, GM did a "deep dive" analysis of the diversity market that included women, said Philip Guarascio, VP-general manager, marketing and advertising at North American Operations.

That year, GM started sponsoring "7th on 6th," an annual fashion show in Manhattan.

DESIGNERS' INTERIORS

This year, GM also has gone to the Fashion Designers Council and persuaded five New York designers to do interiors for vehicles from five GM divisions. The cars and sports-utility vehicles will be auctioned to raise money for the Concept Cure breast cancer program, though each of the five divisions involved will decide how to use the event in its marketing programs, said Mr. Guarascio.

GM isn't the strongest car company when it comes to percentage of sales to women. Mr. Spinella said every Japanese transplant, except Nissan Motor Corp. USA, tops GM in the U.S.

Ford Motor Co. is between 3 and 5 percentage points higher than GM, Mr. Spinella said, though its sales to women have been flat in recent years.

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