Show Biz - Auto show: Car marketers try divergent growth path

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Top car executives were cautiously optimistic at last week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit even as the industry braces for a dip from a robust 2001, when sales were pumped up by 0% interest loans.

Analysts and carmakers have predicted U.S. sales this year will drop by as many as 1 million units from last year's total of 17 million.

Ford Motor Co.'s Land Rover expects the 2003 Range Rover will help double the brand's North American sales to 50,000 units. The new Range Rover, with a starting price around $70,000, goes on sale in July. Bob Dover, managing director, dubbed it the "supreme off-road vehicle."

Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas, handles the U.S. account. WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, London, handles Land Rover outside the U.S.

"Land Rover, unfortunately, never focused on the American market. We missed the SUV boom of the last 10 years," said Wolfgang Reitzle, chairman-CEO of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, which includes Land Rover. Ford bought Land Rover in 2000. Mr. Reitzle said he started a policy for internal annual reviews of all his agencies globally. "Big agencies sometimes think they'll be a big supplier forever."

VOLVO IMPROVES

Eighteen months ago, his group's Volvo Car Group had divergent ads in various countries. "Volvo advertising is much better," he said, since the global account was consolidated at Havas Advertising's Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG in summer 2000. "Volvo has bigger [sales] volume potential than current top luxury car brands."

Japan's Mitsubishi Motor Corp. has globally adopted the brand's 1998 U.S. positioning of "spirited cars for spirited people," said Steve Torok, senior VP-international operations. "Mitsubishi... didn't have a clear identity. From the U.S. sprung the identity for the rest of the company."

Pierre Gagnon, exec VP-chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, said new U.S. products and ads from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, raised brand awareness from 36% to 60% of consumers over the past three years.

The question of incentives popped up oftenat the show. "We will be competitive in discounting, but were not goingto lead the marketing with the deals," said Jim Schroer, exec VP-sales and marketing at DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group. Rather than renew no-interest finance deals, Chrysler Jan. 2 extended its seven-year/100,000 mile vehicle warranty through March 31.

Chrysler will buy more niche magazine titles this year, said Jeff Bell, VP-marketing communications. "Our media is going to move away from the Costco approach and be more targeted."

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