Saturn Aura Marketing Gambit Pulls More Sales
|Topics: Saturn Aura
July 18, 2007
The Saturn division of the General Motors Corp's is wowing auto shoppers away from rival brands this year and expects to attract even more as it rolls out a marketing program that offers direct comparisons with top-selling sedans from Japanese competitors, said the Saturn chief.
Over the past weeks, Saturn dealers have placed a Toyota Camry and a Honda Accord in their showrooms, challenging purchasers to take comparison test drives with the Aura. GM calls the first-of-its-kind marketing campaign the “Side-by-Side-by-Side” challenge.
“It really demonstrates just how confident we are in the product,” said Jill Lajdziak, the general manager of Saturn. The well-reviewed Aura represents a key advance for the automaker, which has been launching a revamped lineup featuring bolder European styling to reverse declining sales and revitalize the Saturn brand.
The Aura, which brought Saturn back into the highly competitive midsize sedan segment, has helped bolstered sales. With sales up to 21 percent through June, Saturn represents GM's best-performing brand at a time when the automaker has seen its overall American sales drop eight percent.
Lajdziak said that Saturn would get momentum from the Aura marketing campaign and other efforts. “It has bounced back in the marketplace. And consideration numbers are going up,” Lajdziak said. “I expect the consideration and the conquest levels to continue to rise.”
Executives at GM said that the Detroit automaker has improved quality, but not yet changed negative perceptions that go back decades. As such it has designed a campaign to close the gap. “One of the things we are trying to do... is to get people who would not have considered a domestic car to actually think about it,” said Chuck Thomson, the director of Saturn sales.
Such campaign, according to analysts, is pretty risky. Instead of drawing more customers, it could push some consumers to their rivals, especially if they found out that the competitors’ product lines are far better. But so far, the side-by-side-by-side campaign of the domestic automaker is serving its purpose well enough.
Data from industry tracking firm Edmunds.com show the Aura has gained traction. In May, the number of visitors to the Web site considering an Aura increased to over 48,000, almost double. From January through June, sales of the Aura in the United States totaled 27,229. That compared with 240,530 sales for the Camry and 182,346 for the Accord over the same period. “We picked the Camry and Honda because they are the two heavy-volume players in the segment,” Thomson said.
The Aura was also voted the North American Car of the Year by automotive journalists. This has added to the salability of the car. GM, which lost the top spot in global sales to the Toyota Motor Corp. earlier this year, has seen its American market slice shrink to roughly 23 percent from a peak of about 45 percent in 1980. As part of its turnaround, executives have said that GM needs to see Saturn turn the corner with its new product lineup.
Encouraged by the success of the Aura marketing program, the largest American automaker is considering launching a similar campaign for the new Saturn Vue, which is going out to dealers this month. GM is also considering rolling out a head-to-head marketing blitz for the new Chevrolet Malibu, which will be rolled off later this year. The Vue would rival the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 while the Malibu against the Toyota Camry, GM officials said.
Lajdziak said that the Saturn challenge showed the brand was regaining its edge. “I don't think there is a bolder, more confident statement,” she added. Apparently, the Saturn splash shield is not preventing the entry of more gains.
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