Cheryl Catton

General Motors Corp.

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Cheryl Catton has played a pivotal role in the successful launch of Chevrolet's 2008 Malibu.

As general director of Chevrolet car marketing, Ms. Catton developed positioning, packaging and pricing strategies for the sedan. She and her team started meeting with Malibu engineers and product teams almost two years before the sedan went on sale last fall.

She also led extensive customer research for the Malibu, including visits to the homes of owners of non-GM sedans to learn more about why they loved their vehicles.

They were "very skeptical and had a negative perception of our quality even though we knew we had a product that would wow them," says the Detroit native, who joined General Motors Corp. in 1978 as a college co-op student. Ms. Catton, 53, says she learned marketing skills via corporate training as a brand manager at GMC.

The Malibu name has been around since the '70s, so awareness wasn't the problem. However, Chevy "had to establish strong credentials because we'd be competing against the [Toyota] Camry and [Honda] Accord," she says.

Ms. Catton worked with Chevy's Kim Kosak, general director-advertising and sales promotions, on Malibu's communications strategy, creative brief to Chevy agency Campbell-Ewald and early ad concepts.

Malibu arrived last fall with a $100 million-plus, three-phase ad launch. The cars are nearly flying off dealer lots. Malibu sales through April stood at 59,133, up 22.5% over the first four months of 2007, and Chevy is selling many fewer to fleets.

Ms. Catton says quality perception of the new Malibu is up 11 points from the old model, consideration is up seven points and there's a 10-point jump in Malibu as a vehicle people aspire to own. GM says the average transaction price is $4,000 higher than it was for the previous version. As of late April, more than 40% of trade-ins were non-GM vehicles; the No. 1 trade-in was a Camry.

GM is making major inroads with the car in markets it hasn't before. Sales of the Malibu jumped 91% in Florida, 135% in New York and 186% in California through late April.

"Cheryl's leadership and tenacity were instrumental in the successful launch of the Malibu, but it goes beyond that. She's helping to lead the relaunch of the entire Chevrolet passenger-car franchise," says Ed Peper, who just moved to VP-Chevrolet Channel from general manager of Chevrolet.

While Ms. Catton is continuing to do post-launch research, she's already moved on to the upcoming launches of the Chevrolet Camaro and Equinox Fuel Cell test drives.

For now, she's content getting into consumers' heads and developing marketing plans. But Ms. Catton says someday she'd like to run an organization.
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