GMC extends 2 truck lines

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General Motors Corp.'s GMC truck brand has struggled since at least the mid-1990s to carve out its niche as a premier truck brand. GMC is now getting the products to match the positioning.

GMC is launching two product extensions with an estimated $30 million media buy that extends into the second quarter.

GMC broke new 30-second spots during national TV football programming Jan. 20, one each for the Sierra C3 full-size pickup and Yukon Denali XL sport utility. The spots will run on national broadcast and cable TV, with a heavy schedule in the first quarter.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Lintas & Partners, New York, continues the "We are professional grade" tag launched last fall. Like the commercials last fall, the new executions show actual GMC engineers.

Engineer Rolando Rodriguez drives the Sierra C3 pickup on a race track in one spot. The narrator wonders aloud about the "only vehicle of its kind with full-time, all-wheel drive," asking whether it's German, Italian or even a car. In the Yukon Denali XL spot, Chris Meagher, another engineer, puts the SUV through its paces in a professional driving school. The voice-over touts the vehicle's 320 horsepower.

"You might call this [campaign] Chapter Two" in the brand's move to differentiate itself more from the trucks sold by GM sibling Chevrolet, said Mark-Hans Richer, advertising director at GMC.

Mr. Richer cited consumer research done on last fall's ads that proves the new ad direction is working: 45% of consumers surveyed liked last fall's TV commercial for the Sierra HD (heavy-duty) full-size pickup and 49% liked it somewhat. And 31% of those surveyed said using engineers in the GMC commercials was very different from competitors, while 52% said it was somewhat different. The index measuring "interest in visiting a dealer" rose by 20 points. GMC's new pickup and SUV build on the division's existing Sierra and Yukon lines. John Middlebrook, VP-general manager of marketing for all GM vehicle brands, said the automaker is seeking efficiency by introducing product extensions instead of vehicles with all new names. He also cited the Cadillac Escalade EXT sport ute-pickup, arriving later this year as a sibling to the Cadillac Escalade sport utility.

GMC spent $159 million during the first nine months of 2000 and $246.6 million in calendar 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Mr. Richer indicated his 2001 ad budget would rise since he also has to launch the restyled Envoy in April and an undisclosed new vehicle in the fourth quarter.

But the brand's sales dropped last year to 507,018 units from 521,294 trucks in 1999, according to Automotive News.

Bob Schnorbus, a director at consultancy J.D. Power & Associates, said all the domestic carmakers lost ground last year as competitors introduced new trucks and sport utilities. The Sierra C3's full-time all-wheel drive is a "nice added feature" and a differentiates it from other trucks, but the real selling point is the pickup's 320-horsepower engine, he predicted.

Mr. Schnorbus doesn't expect GMC to have much trouble selling 25,000 of the new pickups or 15,000 of the new Yukon Denali XLs this year. The high end of the market isn't as impacted by a down economy as the lower end, he explained.

The Yukon Denali XL starts at $48,185. The Sierra C3 starts at $38,995.

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