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General Motors Corp. starts 1999 with a new structure designed to push brand management down into regions and also raise the carmaker's market share to 32%. But executives close to GM and industry analysts are skeptical about the marketer's ability to execute the strategy quickly and properly.

These executives say fumbling the start-up would put GM, with its market share hovering around 29%, at a competitive disadvantage.

The new matrix chart doesn't directly connect divisional marketing managers in the regions to divisional marketing general managers in Detroit, for example, and that could cause confusion and power struggles, said one executive close to GM.

"I think they'll have more problems than they ever dreamed of and they'll have to spend more time looking inward," stated the executive, who asked to remain anonymous.

As of Jan. 1, 4,000 field staffers will call on GM's 8,000 dealers, replacing a system in which 5,000 regional employees were assigned to only one GM brand, such as Cadillac, in regions that varied by brand.

The new field groups will call on dealers in five new regions for six GM brands -- Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Oldsmobile and Pontiac.


The marketer cut 1,000 field staffers, but 70% of the remaining employees are staying in roughly the same regions they were in before, said Roy Roberts, VP-group executive in charge of North American sales, service and marketing.

The staff will start training this week.

"It's going to be two to three weeks before they have real contact with dealers," Mr. Roberts said in an interview.

Auburn, Calif., Chevrolet dealer Steve Snyder said he was informed by a letter dated Dec. 24 that his new market-area manager was in the process of moving to the Sacramento area and would call on him in early January.

Last week, Mr. Snyder said he knew of three other dealers who hadn't yet heard who their new contacts would be.


"In theory, I have no objections to anything GM is doing," said auto analyst Maryann Keller, managing director of ING Baring Furman Selz. "But implementation -- this is where GM historically has had problems."

She cited the example of GM's announcement five years ago to trim its dealer ranks, a program that's still behind schedule.

Ms. Keller added she's not confident GM will reach 32% market share this year, "because the product isn't right."

The marketer, she explained, can expect gains only in select segments, such as pickup trucks and perhaps midsize cars. Although GM's new models are selling well, they're not selling well enough, she added, as demonstrated by high inventories.

As of Dec. 1, GM had on hand a 95-day supply of the Cadillac Seville, remodeled dramatically in early 1998. A 60-day supply is considered normal. Oldsmobile's new Intrigue sedan had a 112-day inventory and GMC's Suburban sport-utility vehicle an 85-day supply, according to Automotive News.

GM, however, remains confident.

"Everything we are doing in this reorganization is designed to drive our messages and our efforts down to the local level and help our dealers compete more effectively in every local market," said Darwin Clark, VP-general manager

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