GM drops Camry, Accord test drive program
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- 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
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
"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
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.