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GM takes risk with Saturn square-off

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GM's risky challenge
Carmaker bets on showroom face-off with Asian cars
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Sharon Terlep | Link to Original Article @ The Detroit News


ANN ARBOR -- A look of disbelief crossed Karen Smith's face as a Saturn salesman handed her the keys to a shiny new Toyota Camry.

"Really, go ahead and drive it," he told Smith, who was car shopping for her teenage son. "Try the Honda, too."

Off she drove, rolling out of a Saturn dealer's lot in the hot-selling Toyota, her two sons and their grandmother in the car. For the next 15 minutes, the brood weighed the pros and cons of the Camry and the Saturn Aura, from the handling on a tight corner to the arrangement of the instrument panel.

The unlikely exercise is part of a new promotion from General Motors Corp.'s Saturn brand that pits the new Aura four-door against American car buyers' perennial favorites -- the Camry and Honda Accord -- in Saturn showrooms across the nation.

Not the type of risky tactic GM would likely have tried even a few years ago. The strategy could backfire if Saturn shoppers drive a Camry and Accord and like it better.

But after decades spent defending its dominance in the market, the auto giant is going on the attack against a bigger, healthier competitor -- Toyota Motor Corp. -- and trying to loosen Toyota's and Honda's grip on the sedan market.

"We want to make sure people understand we're unbelievably confident in our product," Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak said. "You've got to try different ways to cut through the clutter in a very crowded marketplace."

The Smiths make a perfect target for Saturn: a family of four living in the trendy Ann Arbor area, and Smith and her husband were once Ford Motor Co. loyalists. A run of malfunction-prone vehicles turned the couple toward the competition. In recent years, they have been happy owners of a Camry and a Honda Pilot SUV.

A desire to bolster Detroit's struggling auto industry has them tentatively considering buying American. Their 15-year-old, Kevin, will soon need a car, and they want something safe, practical and appealing. The family also is encouraged by signs that domestic automakers are closing the quality and reliability gaps with foreign companies.

"We're ready to try again," Smith said.

At first, the family compared the vehicles' exteriors. They all preferred the Aura's sloping front end to the flatter Camry.

Inside the Camry, Smith's sons complained they couldn't see the dash-mounted clock from the back seat. Having driven the Aura, they talked about the roominess and overall feel of both vehicles.

Kevin Smith, the soon-to-be driver, thought the Camry had "pep" and was impressed by its handling.

His grandmother, Beverly Good, was mostly pleased that the Saturn saved them the trouble of visiting a Toyota or Honda store.

When the drive was done, the foursome huddled. They mostly agreed on the Aura, though the Camry's cavernous trunk almost won Kevin over, since he needs space to haul hockey equipment to and from camp all summer. A final decision will come later, after Smith's husband gets a chance to weigh in.

"It's a good idea," Karen Smith said of the promotion. "If they're really confident in their product, they've got nothing to lose."

Strategy similar to Ford's


Buoyed by a slew of well-received products, GM desperately wants to convince consumers that it really can compete against foreign nameplates that have cannibalized sales of Detroit's Big Three. For the first time in 76 years, GM lost its claim as the world's largest automaker when Toyota outsold it worldwide in the first quarter.

"For years, people bought Japanese cars because they thought it was the smart choice," GM marketing chief Mark LaNeve said in a recent interview. "Our products are every bit as competitive."

As part of GM's assault, Saturn dealers nationwide bought or rented a Camry and Accord to have in showrooms for the "Side-by-Side-by-Side" national campaign that runs through July.

The automaker may try a similar promotion when the redesigned Malibu hits showrooms this fall.

GM's strategy is similar to Ford's, whose recent Fusion Challenge ads pitted the Fusion sedan against the Camry and Accord.

Battle to win back buyers


Winning back customers is going to be a battle for GM.

Among consumers who bought Honda Accords between November and January, only 1 percent had also seriously considered the Aura, according to data from J.D. Power and Associates' 2007 Initial Quality Study, which measures consumer satisfaction in the first 90 days of ownership. Among Camry buyers, none had considered the Aura.

Saturn's Lajdziak acknowledges the challenge of getting on some shoppers' lists.

Sales of the Aura, which won the North American Car of the Year award at the Detroit auto show in January, totaled 27,200 through June, compared to 212,500 Camrys and 180,000 Accords.

Mentioning the Aura along with the Accord and Camry will help consumers familiar with the Japanese models recognize the Aura as a midsize sedan, Lajdziak said.

Toyota, which saw sales jump 10 percent in June compared to GM's 21.3 percent drop, is taking the heat in stride. Having its vehicles shown in Saturn showrooms may even help draw customers who wouldn't normally buy an import, spokesman John McCandless said.

"We're being targeted as very good, high-quality products," he said. "I'm not so sure that's a bad thing."
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ANN ARBOR -- A look of disbelief crossed Karen Smith's face as a Saturn salesman handed her the keys to a shiny new Toyota Camry.
*GASP* The perfect car... For me... TO DRIVE?!?!

(Much sarcasm implied)

Not the type of risky tactic GM would likely have tried even a few years ago. The strategy could backfire if Saturn shoppers drive a Camry and Accord and like it better.

But then again, what are the chances of that happening? You'd have to not have a pulse in order to like the Camry over the Aura.

But after decades spent defending its dominance in the market, the auto giant is going on the attack against a bigger, healthier competitor -- Toyota Motor Corp. -- and trying to loosen Toyota's and Honda's grip on the sedan market.
It's about damn time.
A desire to bolster Detroit's struggling auto industry has them tentatively considering buying American.

Believe it or not, I think there might be quite a few people like this.

"We're ready to try again," Smith said.
This is the kind of second chance we need.
At first, the family compared the vehicles' exteriors. They all preferred the Aura's sloping front end to the flatter Camry.

No surprise there... The Camry has butt ugly literally written on it.

Kevin Smith, the soon-to-be driver, thought the Camry had "pep" and was impressed by its handling.

LOL, haven't been in too many REAL cars there junior, have ya?

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When the drive was done, the foursome huddled. They mostly agreed on the Aura, though the Camry's cavernous trunk almost won Kevin over, since he needs space to haul hockey equipment to and from camp all summer. A final decision will come later, after Smith's husband gets a chance to weigh in.
A.K.A. They'll buy the Camry.
"For years, people bought Japanese cars because they thought it was the smart choice,"

But it's not.

"Our products are every bit as competitive."
That statement should read: OUR PRODUCTS ARE BETTER ON EVERY LEVEL.
As part of GM's assault, Saturn dealers nationwide bought or rented a Camry and Accord to have in showrooms for the "Side-by-Side-by-Side" national campaign that runs through July.

Only through July?!?!

The automaker may try a similar promotion when the redesigned Malibu hits showrooms this fall.
They'd better... But what are the chances of getting yuppies into "eww... Cheverlet dealers" Oh, wait, they'll be there to buy a new Tahoe anyway... Carry on.
Winning back customers is going to be a battle for GM.

Isn't it always? GM has been battling it's way to the grave for 20 years now.

Among consumers who bought Honda Accords between November and January, only 1 percent had also seriously considered the Aura, according to data from J.D. Power and Associates' 2007 Initial Quality Study, which measures consumer satisfaction in the first 90 days of ownership. Among Camry buyers, none had considered the Aura.
That's because NONE of them know it exists because of GM's $h!ty marketing... Either that or we've reached the point where GM will in fact finally go out of business.
Sales of the Aura, which won the North American Car of the Year award at the Detroit auto show in January,

Yet has not marketed that HUGE accomplishment one bit... But then again, the media has damaged Detroit so badly over the past 3 years that it really doesn't matter what awards they give the automakers... They've already sold the public on an asian dominated future.

Toyota, which saw sales jump 10 percent in June compared to GM's 21.3 percent drop, is taking the heat in stride. Having its vehicles shown in Saturn showrooms may even help draw customers who wouldn't normally buy an import, spokesman John McCandless said.

Of course it will.... It's not about the product (especially with people who generally buy Toyotas) it's about the NAME and REPUTATION They'll buy the Camry without consequence over ANYTHING BETTER offered by Detroit simply because they've been told to do so for 20 years now.

*** GM needs to learn how to inform the consumer... This war isn't about product alone, especially since GM is starting from negative territory as opposed to zero. Unless GM can get it's names/brands/divisions/lines on equal footing with the asians, we'll see a dead Detroit in 5 years.

It's not hard to do either GM, the model has been set by the Koreans. Why not take a few pages from their playbooks?

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM
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Yet has not marketed that HUGE accomplishment one bit...

Actually, that is just about the only thing Saturn has advertised about the AURA. Aside from the early 'That's a Saturn?' campaign - which ran before the award was given - and the current 'Rethink:' ads, every single Saturn commercial that mentioned the AURA mentioned the NACOTY award. Every AURA-specific ad (including the current side-by-side-by-side spots) state that its NACOTY; remember that the first big AURA-only push was the travelling award. Radio ads also mention the award and its touted on Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Coast to Coast over the airwaves.

So yeah...

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I do remember seeing the "pass it on" ads (no pun intended; remember that horrible old Pontiac campaign) but not enough.

As for the "side by side" ads, I've seen a total of one in my area and I haven't heard anything on the airwaves either.

I know my observations don't mean much in the grand scheme of things. But in comparison to the Toyota ads I come across and the quality of the marketing GM does as opposed to say someone like; Ford or Nissan, GM still hasn't got it.

They need game changing marketing to go along with the game changing products. Shuffling and exchanging division dollars from clueless firms, to other equally clueless firms for even worse, watered down marketing (As GM has done lately) is not a good idea. These consumers are not even CONSIDERING GM when buying a car. Something DRASTIC needs to happen to 'snap the consumer out of an asian car induced trance' and the message needs to be epic and well conveyed.

EXAMPLE: "Life, Liberty and The Pursuit." <-------- Give me a break! It's so generic, gee wonder where I've heard it before? It conveys NO message at all, really doesn't even have meaning and doesn't relate to the brand in any way.

Compared to the "Breakthrough" campaign or even some of the campaigns of the brand management era, the new 'messages' if that's what you want to call them are WEAK at best.

Maybe Caddy could use "Drive Beautiful" oh wait, that equally lame tagline has already been reserved :D

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM
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