GM must look within for help

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General Motors, the world's top automaker since 1931, likely will drop behind Toyota this year or next. There's talk the place could go bankrupt. Jerry York, henchman for investor Kirk Kerkorian, is hammering GM to shift into "crisis mode" and borrow plays from Nissan's cost-cutting handbook.

But on the marketing front, we think GM should follow the lead of an auto brand in its own house: Flagship Chevrolet, which in the midst of a bleak environment is delivering smart, simple messages that resonate.

Chevy last week began a campaign that draws attention to its vehicles, focuses on price and value, plays to its strengths and steers consumers to an authoritative Web site to see how its products stack up.

"More Americans choose Chevy than any other brand," ads proclaim. Chevrolet beat Ford in 2005 sales for the first time since 1986, but there's no mention of Ford. That battle is irrelevant; the real issue is persuading Asian-brand intenders to consider Chevy.

The campaign sends consumers to to compare Chevy to its rivals. Edmunds faults Cobalt for "cheap interior plastics, cramped backseat and dire lack of interior storage." But some consumers might find it a better value. Give Chevrolet credit for sending consumers to an objective Web site-and for making auto marketing more transparent.

The campaign also trumpets lower sticker prices on every Chevy. GM last week cut prices on 57 of 76 GM models to move the sticker closer to transaction price, reducing the need for rebates. "Consumers clearly said they are confused by an array of pricing," said GM's Mark LaNeve. "They want a clean line of sight on price. We are trying to demystify that."

GM's future is still in doubt. Marketing execution is inconsistent (GM followed "Employee Pricing," last summer's home run, with "Total Value Promise," a flop). If only GM could take the decisive action that Carlos Ghosn took at Nissan to slash costs and develop and sell hot cars. If only Carlos Ghosn ran GM. But give credit where it's due: Chevrolet and agency Campbell-Ewald last week delivered the kind of compelling marketing campaign GM needs to keep from sinking-like a rock.

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