Posted by: David Welch on June 28, 2010
General Motors realizes it has a nagging little marketing problem as it prepares for an initial public stock offering. The analysts, portfolio managers and potential investors that they are hoping will like their stock aren’t big customers of the company’s cars. So GM is mulling over a plan to open up a GM salon in Manhattan, say three people who know about the discussions. The company would rent or buy a building, outfit it with imagery for its four brands and showcase the latest cars. The idea is to get GM’s best models in a place where high-fashion New Yorkers, tourists and high-rolling investors might walk by. GM does poorly in the New York metro area. GM’s market share in the New York area was just 9.6% in the first quarter, compared with 18.7% in the U.S. GM’s share in the New York area was 10% last year, down from 13% in 2008, according to Experian Automotive, which tracks vehicle registrations.
GM thinks that the salon would show investors and car buyers that the company’s newest models are competitive. Audi has a similar display called the Audi Forum at the corner of 47th Street and Park Avenue. Audi keeps five cars on hand, including a vintage Le Mans series race car. Audi has events at the Forum. They even kept it open so Audiphiles could watch the entire 24 Hours at Le Mans race last year.
For GM, this does create a bit of a dilemma. GM wants to get in front of the hip and the well-heeled. But is this the right way to do it? The Forum works for Audi because it’s a house for just one brand. There is nary a Volkswagen in sight. GM would have four brands together at a time when the company is trying to give Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC some individuality.
That isn’t what’s stopping GM. Executives say they like the idea of a company showroom in the Big Apple. But Manhattan real estate is really pricey. For a company perceived by some to be on the dole—and that took some heat for giving a Corvette to near-perfect Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga—a Manhattan marketing scheme could draw heat. GM should pay no mind. The bigger question is whether GM could differentiate its brands with this, and any other companywide marketing strategy.