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Can Chevy Cruze cut through the clutter?


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Can Chevy Cruze cut through the clutter?

GM has to move quickly to advance in crowded segment



Chevrolet has built a better mousetrap. The 2011 Cruze sedan gets better fuel economy than most subcompacts and offers the passenger and luggage space of a midsize sedan.

Those achievements will mean nothing unless Chevrolet convinces customers to check out the Cruze before they buy a better-known model like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla. Years of reliability and fuel-efficiency give those models credibility with small-car buyers.

Chevy can't match that history. The mousetrap needs cheese.

"Our job is to tell buyers why they have to look at the Cruze: fuel economy, safety, refinement and quality," said Margaret Brooks, Chevrolet director of small-car marketing.

EPA highway fuel economy ratings of up to 40 m.p.g., an exceptionally roomy interior and trunk, and 10 standard air bags will drive the rational argument.

"Direct comparisons are probably good with this car," said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics in Birmingham. "Tell people how the Cruze is better than each of its competitors; show the ways it stands out."

The comparisons should focus on attributes where the Cruze's advantage is greatest and will last longest, he said. That way the commercials can keep running for months.

The calendar favors Chevrolet. The Cruze's advantages in fuel economy and room should last a long time. It will be the only new compact on sale this fall. It will have a head start of several months versus the 2012 Ford Focus, a year over the new Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra, and about two years before a new Toyota Corolla arrives.

Brooks plans entertaining and attention-grabbing advertising to complement just-the-facts comparisons. Cruze advertising is to begin appearing in September. In addition to high-rated TV shows, Chevy plans to advertise on popular news, lifestyle and shopping Web sites.

Chevrolet also plans to place Cruzes within TV programs, making the car a supporting character in the stories without disrupting the plot. "The takeaway will be that this is a fun car," Brooks said. "This is a very research-oriented market. If you capture people's attention, they go online to learn more."

The Cruze must impress independent buyers' guides like Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com and the Automotive Leasing Guide, said Joe Phillippi, principal of AutoTrends consulting, Short Hills, N.J.

"That will put them on new people's shopping lists," he said. "Then they need to put people in the cars" for test drives.

Chevrolet dealers will host events to do just that at malls and other public places, said Jim Campbell, Chevy director of marketing.

Chevrolet will encourage dealers to buy the Cruze's direct competitors and offer back-to-back comparison test drives. That tactic helped the Malibu, Traverse and Equinox build credibility.

"Our goal is to get on the shopper's final consideration list, and then beat the competition head to head," Campbell said.

Chevrolet knows it has an opportunity with the Cruze. After years when it was barely a player in the car and small SUV markets, the Malibu, Traverse and Equinox have won the brand and GM new customers. Some 40% to 50% of Equinox buyers are new to GM. That's an exceptionally high rate. Chevrolet expects the Cruze to match it.

"There's a generation of buyers who have no experience with domestic brands," Brooks said. "The Cruze is a great opportunity to bring them into the Chevrolet brand."

GM is confident. Weeks before the first Cruze reaches a dealership, the automaker has added a third shift to build the Cruze 'round-the-clock in Lordstown, Ohio. GM won't reveal sales targets, but three-shift manufacturing will produce more than 300,000 cars a year, enough to make the Cruze one of the country's best-selling cars.



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