By Published on .

California is a bellwether state for car sales, and by the early 1990s a generation of Californians had grown up regarding Japanese imports as the standard.

The trend looked grim for General Motors Corp. It was a situation dire enough to convince GM divisional executives to drop their traditional rivalries. They got together and brought in Ann Pattyn, who had been Cadillac's director of dealer marketing associations, to coordinate this new spirit of cooperation.

"We needed to fundamentally change the way we did business, in order to present value upfront to consumers in a straightforward way," recalls Ms. Pattyn.

The drive to reclaim California began with a massive market research effort, says Ms. Pattyn, named in April 1993 as project manager for what was dubbed the "California marketing initiative."

"We talked to thousands of California consumers who told us rebates were confusing and they didn't like traditional shopping practices," Ms. Pattyn says.

GM's response was a value-pricing program designed to make the shopping process simpler, beginning in September 1993. The idea was to identify models that would have the greatest appeal to Californians, then package them with popular options at a lower sticker price than if the options were priced separately.

The marketing program-including broadcast and print ads from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles' Los Angeles office-propelled GM back to the top in California retail sales in 1994, passing Ford for the first time since 1991, according to R.L. Polk's count of registrations. GM recorded 259,099 vehicle retail sales, an increase of 13.2% from 1993, and increased its share of the California market to 22.3%, up 1.4 share points from the previous year. Ford sold 256,978 cars and trucks, for a 22.1% share.

The program originally began with 46 value-priced models, and is now up to 74 models that account for 85% of GM's sales in the state.

"This is not a short-term marketing effort. It's not a gimmick," says Ms. Pattyn, 42. "California buyers are very particular, and it takes an integrated focus to succeed."

Most Popular
In this article: