For decades, the founders and builders of General Motors relied effectively on a brand architecture based on creating lifelong customers by offering them brands and product lines “fit for every purse and purpose.”
So even the new, slimmed-down GM isn’t about to simply cast millions of its owners away as the company terminates its Pontiac and Saturn brands and peddles its Hummer and fate-uncertain Saab marques. Eliminating hundreds of GM dealers even of its surviving brands, such as Chevrolet, will untether even more customers.
After spending the last several years trying to wrest “conquest” sales from import brands, GM doesn’t want to make its hard-won customers easy marks for any competition.
That’s why GM is intensifying its efforts to reach 6.8 million owners of its abandoned brands who are now becoming “free agents,” and whose brand loyalty has become tenuous. It has just launched what Susan Docherty, vice president of U.S. sales, called a “massive initiative” to keep these folks in the fold, beginning with an “extensive” direct-mail campaign last month inviting them back into GM dealer showrooms for an oil change.
Reassuring these people that service remains available for their now-defunct brands is of primary importance to GM “We focus-grouped Pontiac and Saturn people and found out their immediate needs,” Docherty said. “But it’s also important to use that as a touch point to create relationships with these free agents.”
That way, Docherty said, GM and its dealers can introduce them to models in the lineups of continuing brands Saab, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.
But beyond keeping their old Saturns and Pontiacs running for a while, what do these free agents really want? Docherty also has appointed an “executive director in charge of free agents” to find out.
Presumably, many of these existing GM customers are welcoming the forced opportunity to consider other brands and manufacturers. On the other hand, Docherty believes that the recent string of a about a half-dozen successful GM product launches – including the new Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain SUVs, the retro-styled new Chevrolet Camaro, and the well-received Buick LaCrosse – will help GM hold onto a huge chunk of them.
And then there’s the new Chevrolet Cruze small car, which is being introduced officially at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week.