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GM's Interim CMO Walks Tightrope as Automaker Looks to Restore Confidence

Posted by Dale Buss on August 1, 2012 06:04 PM

From his first public remarks since taking over as interim CMO of General Motors, it's clear that Alan Batey isn't planning any abrupt changes in policies, directions or programs as he steers the company's marketing efforts at least for the short term. Only recently promoted from Chevrolet sales vice president to vice president of U.S. sales and service, Batey was just tapped again — this time to succeed Joel Ewanick, the controversial global CMO who unexpectedly parted ways with GM on Sunday.

"There is no change," Batey told reporters and analysts during the company's July sales call. "We've always been one thing here, and we have no change in direction or priorities. Our focus is on executing. There is a lot going on right now; a lot of new products. We'll have no disruption and no change. It's all about execution."

From Batey's remarks, it's easy to infer that the main problem his bosses had with Ewanick was with Ewanick, not necessarily with his work. And GM did say that his dismissal had to do with execution of Chevy's sponsorship agreement with the Manchester United soccer franchise, not with the fact of his having struck a deal with Manchester. Sure enough, Batey's first duty in his new role on Monday was to announce the signing of the Man U deal after terms were altered.

But more (likely) is going on than it appears.

There is more questioning about the future of GM including whether CEO Dan Akerson, who asked for Ewanick's head, is heading toward failure.

So Batey's emphasis on all that GM has going on these days — and coming up, including with a number of important new product launches as GM fights to hold on to recent gains in market share — was a prudent move. Rocking the boat too much more just now could be risky for an interim CMO at a crucial time.

He's certainly not implying that Ewanick was doing everything right, because beyond a slipping market share in the U.S. and its participation in industry-wide woes in Europe, the company also has been battling continued ambiguity in the Chevrolet brand, a slump for Buick, a fight with Facebook and an about-face on GM's sponsorship of the Super Bowl starting with next year's Big Game.

Although it likely had little role in Ewanick's ouster, another illustration of GM's marketing woes has been "Chevy Confidence." The brand launched the program July 10 featuring no-haggle pricing and no-hassle returns through September 4. But Edmunds.com analysis showed little initial extra interest on its site in considering Chevy vehicles and questioned whether "Confidence" prices were actually good deals because of concurrent moves that GM made with other incentive programs.

GM executives acknowledged the slow start for "Confidence" on Wednesday, explaining that the program's initial lack of visibility in part reflected the fact that the brand's Tim Allen-voiced TV campaign didn't begin until July 27 during NBC's coverage of the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics. Chevy sales in the U.S. were off by 5 percent in July compared with a year ago, for which the automaker blamed lower rental sales volume.

"Our tracking of the advertising shows that it came in very strong," said GM sales exec Don Johnson. "It's a breakthrough program. Our web traffic is up on it. We're confident in the program and that we'll see it really pay off in August."

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