Hachette was one of three auto-enthusiast magazine publishers that in the past month finished proprietary research projects for the auto giant. But an executive close to GM said an unidentified Hachette executive leaked some findings of its report to GM rival Ford Motor Co.
GM, the executive said, considers that a serious breach of confidentiality.
The incident may cause a rift in what has been a strong business relationship between GM and Hachette, publisher of Car & Driver and Road & Track.
Philip Guarascio, VP-general manager of marketing and advertising for GM's North American Operations, would not confirm that the incident happened. But he did discuss how GM would react to such a situation.
"We would consider it a serious breach if our proprietary research was shared with one of our competitors," he said, adding it "would absolutely impact future business decisions."
"The long-term impact depends on the circumstances," Mr. Guarascio continued. "We're not going to take an arbitrary punitive position. Our relationship with the organization would be taken into consideration and we'd take into consideration what happened."
CREATING AN ADVANTAGE
He described such research programs as "one of the most important things we do . . . to create proprietary business advantages for General Motors. You need a high level of trust to enter into proprietary work."
A Hachette spokesman in New York said the publishing group was "unaware of any problems," adding, "We've had a great, longstanding relationship with GM."
He said Hachette has worked with GM, Ford and Chrysler Corp. for 23 years on research for Car & Driver's annual new-car buyers guide. Early this year, Hachette won the $3 million to $5 million custom-publishing contract for GM's Cadillac division's twice-yearly magazine; the first edition of Vision came out this month.
MONTE CARLO SPONSORSHIP
Early this year, Hachette signed GM's Chevrolet Monte Carlo as the sole, presenting sponsor of its Motor Sports '98 area on Car & Driver's Web site (www.caranddriver.com).
The Hachette spokesman said company President-CEO David Pecker was unavailable for comment and Brian McMahon, senior VP-automotive group publisher, was vacationing last week.
David Ropes, Ford's director of corporate advertising and integrated marketing, declined comment.
Other magazines involved in the GM studies, said to have looked at whether readers of automotive-buff books do influence car purchases and are worth paying premium ad rates to reach, were Petersen Publishing's Motor Trend and Primedia's Automobile Magazine.