GM drops Camry, Accord test drive program

GM drops Camry, Accord test drive program 07083113
NEW YORK ( -- General Motors has quietly dropped a marketing strategy it announced in May where it would bring other car makers' vehicles to its Chevrolet showrooms for customers to test against its redesigned 2008 Malibu
The company was already running a similar program for its new Saturn Aura sedan where dealers were bringing Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys into the showroom and allowing customers to inspect and test those vehicles in comparison to the Aura.
GM (Charts, Fortune 500) has also stopped marketing support of that program. The company is, instead, shifting its Saturn marketing dollars to the just-released redesigned 2008 Saturn Vue SUV. Dealers can voluntarily continue the program on their own, a GM spokeswoman said, but GM would no longer be advertising it.
Saturn dealers, which are independently owned businesses, paid for the competitive vehicles themselves. For the most part, dealers either purchased or rented competitive vehicles for the purpose. Dealers who also owned Toyota (Charts) or Honda dealerships could "borrow" vehicles for the program.
The Aura program was successful, said Matt Armstrong, GM's Saturn marketing manager.
Aura sales increased 24 percent from June, when the program started, through July, he said. At the same time, the overall market for midsized cars went down 14 percent. July was the second-best month for the Aura since the car's launch in 2006, said Armstrong
The Saturn test drive program had always been intended as a summer promotion to boost awareness of the Aura, Armstrong said, which was an entirely new vehicle and name for Saturn.
"We made the decision to shift our resources over to Vue," Armstrong said.
GM gave no specific reason for dropping plans for the similar program involving the new Chevrolet Malibu.
"It's really been off the table for quite some time," said Nancy Libby, communications manager for Chevrolet.
The Malibu launch will be marketed with some sort of innovative approach, Libby said, but not the one Saturn used, as had originally been discussed.
"We really just didn't think that was the best approach we could come up with," she said.
Chevrolet has about 4,100 dealers compared to about 400 for Saturn, Libby said, but the sheer number of retail sites was, while a complicating factor, was not the reason for dropping the side-by-side-by-side concept.
The 2008 Malibu will be based on the same engineering fundamentals as the current Saturn Aura. The Malibu, which is expected to launch in November with a starting price of $19,995, is available with a base 4-cylinder engine that is not offered on the Aura. The Malibu's steering and suspension are also tuned to be somewhat lighter and more forgiving than the Aura's.
The company recently invited journalists to its vehicle test center in Milford Mich. to drive different versions of the 2008 Malibu in a series of tests against the Camry. Participating journalists had to agree not to write reviews based on those test drives until November.
Honda (Charts) recently revealed a redesigned 2008 Accord which is set to enter showrooms in September. The Saturn Aura's so-called "Side-by-side-by-side Test Drive" program had involved the 2007 Accord, not the new version.
GM has called the Malibu the company's strongest offering ever in the competitive mid-sized sedan category. Currently, that vehicle segment is dominated by Toyota and Honda.
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