GM Tells Dealers The Focus Is Now on Toyota

Forget about Ford. Toyota is the real enemy. That's the message General Motors delivered this week in Las Vegas at its annual dealer meeting.

"The message was: 'We are going to focus on that issue and that issue solely--that Toyota is formidable, strong, and good at what they are doing.'"

As if any confirmation were needed, Toyota on Wednesday forecast that its global vehicle sales will grow 11 percent to 9.8 million units in 2008 from an expected 8.85 million units this year. The goal means it's really not a question if--just when--the Japanese automaker will surpass GM as the world's top seller of automobiles.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, the dealers also got their first look at forthcoming national advertising for the Chevrolet Silverado, via Campbell-Ewald, Troy, Mich. "It was very strong, very emotional," said the attendee. "The message was very simply 'Our country. Our truck'." He said the divisional brand theme "American Revolution" is muted in the new ads.



The ad theme is a direct reproach to Toyota, which has been communicating in corporate advertising that it, too is really an American company because of its large domestic production footprint.

The ads are "not patriotic in the sense of being brazen," said the attendee, who asked not to be named. "It's about the vista and all of the things that make this country great. It's not syrupy."

The ads, which show slices of Americana and feature the music of John Mellencamp, are also ethnically diverse, he said--which is relatively new in full-sized pickup truck advertising. While automakers have been targeting Hispanic, African-American and Asian consumers with creative for cars and SUVSs, they have been relatively late to the game in trucks.

Ford recently launched its first-ever pickup truck campaign created by an Asian American ad agency, for Asian American consumers.

In addition to the new full-sized pickup trucks, dealers also got a look at custom versions of Chevrolet's HHR wagon--including a panel-sided "woody" version and a factory-tuned SS version--and a completely redesigned Malibu that will go on sale in the third quarter next year.

The dealer said GM brass admitted the company is in a tough situation. "They were very honest with dealers about all of the difficulties they have had, but they didn't dwell on it."

Dealers reacted with gusto, he said, to a moment of candor when Ed Peper, Chevrolet general manager, acknowledged that Toyota is tougher than they had believed. "He said, 'Look. We have been talking about battling Ford for number one for years. Let's get real. Our competitor is Toyota.' It just brought the house down."

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