Trucks help the general rebound as Detroit giant snags buyers with sizzle

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C.J. Fraleigh figures "it's a good time to be at GM."

That's because General Motors Corp. is riding high on its trucks, helping the automaker regain lost market share.

Mr. Fraleigh joined GM as executive director of corporate advertising and marketing early last year from Pepsi-Cola Co. After spending most of 2001 learning GM's corporate culture, his mission in 2002 is to focus GM's ads on a single, crystal clear idea and break through the clutter.

Several GM brands are already on that track, such as Chevrolet trucks longtime "Like a rock" advertising from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich. Mr. Fraleigh cites the two most recent examples in which he was involved: Cadillac's new "Break through" campaign from Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich., and GM's corporate "Overdrive" blitz from Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide, also Troy.

GM hasn't shown any signs of backing away from aggressive incentives since last September's no-interest "Keep America Rolling" financing deals. Is Mr. Fraleigh in a quandary over balancing deal vs. brand advertising? "One has to take priority over the other," he answers. GM's incentive advertising can tie into a brand theme without sacrificing the deal in the message.

He says observers shouldn't look for GM to make any major changes in overall ad spending or wholesale media shifts this year vs. 2001. That's a different scenario from last year, when the automaker moved significant dollars from national to regional buys, cut TV spending in the second quarter and trimmed several magazines from its roster for several months.

Also on Mr. Fraleigh's plate this year: more variety in "focused events and promotional events"; integrate a divisional brand's ad theme at events; continue test drives; and continue online partnerships to connect with vehicle shoppers.

GM is starting to lure more motorists from competitors, especially for Cadillac's new CTS sedan, and Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy sport-utility vehicles, he says.

GM's recently redone truck lineup, which includes pickups, SUVs and pickup-SUV crossovers, is enjoying brisk sales. In the first two months of 2002, GM reported its truck sales rose by nearly 17% from the same period in 2001. Goldman Sachs says GM's February sales boosted its overall market share to 31% for the month vs. 26.6% in January.

But GM's car lineup continues to sag. The marketer says its car sales declined by 26% in the first two months of 2002 vs. the same 2001 period.

Mr. Fraleigh says new or redone cars will help that side of the vehicle maker.

"All of our car brands have either moved or are in the process of moving toward stronger, cleaner, more compelling divisional ad campaigns," he adds. For example, McCann is readying a new Buick brand blitz. Saturn Corp.'s new agency, Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, has started work on a new brand ad look for the freshening of Saturn's L-Series midsize car line this summer and the introduction of the Ion small car this fall.

The automaker is looking for sales growth this year from older, higher-income, college-educated consumers who helped fuel sales last October during the first month of the marketer's no-interest incentives, says Paul Ballew, executive director of market and industry analysis at GM.

But GM's share of buyers with household incomes of $75,000 or more stood at 22% in late 2001, down from 29% in 1995. "We have struggled with high-income households. Our current assets are clearly on the truck side. That's why the [Cadillac] CTS [sedan] is so important," Mr. Ballew says. He concedes that "We still have some holes in our lineup-cars and small SUVs" and "we are in a bit of a competitive hole" on the car side.

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