Editorial: GM takes step in right direction

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Only GM can fix its mess. And General Motors shows tentative signs of doing just that. In recent weeks, the embattled automaker laid out a reasonable brand strategy, took ownership of the word quality and launched a promotion that maybe, just maybe, will lead to more straightforward vehicle pricing.

The brand plan sketched out by North America sales and marketing chief Mark LaNeve makes sense: Emphasize Chevrolet and Cadillac as the mainstay value/volume and luxury bookends and narrow the focus of lesser brands, such as Buick and Pontiac, by eliminating overlapping products.

GM, meanwhile, has owned the quality story since mid-May, when its products and plants won accolades in a J.D. Power & Associates survey. (The only junk GM is selling these days is its bonds.) Impressive results, and GM has hammered home the message in a smart, fact-based campaign.

Finally, this month's GM Employee Discount for Everyone is an attention-getting promotion that will drive dealer traffic and help cut GM's bloated inventory. Consumers will see realistic prices prominently displayed on cars and listed on GM's Web site. That straightforward communication on pricing is welcome and should be made permanent, though GM is still too reliant on rebates.

It'd be refreshing and welcome for GM to do something truly bold: Whack a few brands (Toyota has three; why does GM need eight?), adopt a true value-pricing strategy to eliminate the fiction of inflated suggested retail prices and never-ending rebates. Consumers flock to Wal-Mart and Home Depot for everyday pricing and periodic price rollbacks. Can that work in cars?

None of the recent moves fix the big problem: GM has lots of (and lots full of) uninspired cars. GMs announcement of its new promotion carried the headline "GM is proud to invite America to be part of its family." What GM really needs is to design cars that American families will be clamoring to buy and proud to own. But GM's latest marketing and strategic moves at least are a step in the right direction.

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