More stories related to Geneva Motor Show GENEVA – In an effort to rebuild its tattered image in Europe, General Motors Corp. will provide its European dealers with 35,000 vehicles for consumer test drives for at least the next three months, the auto maker announces here at the Geneva auto show.

Called the “Million Mile Test Drive,” the program kicks off today and involves GM’s Opel and Vauxhall brands, although additional nameplates eventually may be added.

The test fleet will include every vehicle from GM’s Opel and Vauxhall lineup, featuring gasoline and diesel engines, as well as key technologies.

GM’s lack of diesel engines has a been a key contributor to the auto maker’s multi-year financial slide in Europe; GME has posted annual losses every year since 2000.

Fritz Henderson

The test-drives will last three days. “That way, (consumers) can experience the car on the same roads that they would in the course of their normal daily life,” says GM Europe Chairman Fritz Henderson. “The program will be supported by a full-scale pan-European promotional and marketing effort.”

Billboards around Geneva are promoting the Million Mile Test Drive with catchy slogans such as “Admire Me,” “Tame Me,” “Challenge Me,” and “Push Me.” Advertising elsewhere in Europe begins today (March 1), except in Germany where the rollout began several weeks ago. More than 100,000 consumers there already have signed up for a test drive.

“With the Million Mile Test Drive, we’re putting our marketing money where our mouth is,” Henderson says. He declines to disclose the cost of the massive test-drive program, calling it the biggest in history, or say whether the expenses will increase losses at GME, projected to be $500 million in 2005.

“Let us worry about the cost,” Henderson says. “This is about putting customers into the cars. It’s a significant cost. Now, as to what the actual cost is, I’m not going to get into that.”

Henderson does not provide a timeline for including other brands in the Million Mile Test Drive, such as Saab, Chevy and Cadillac. “What we really want to do is focus and prioritize on (Opel and Vauxhall),” he says. “Putting 35,000 vehicles into the fleet is not a small thing. This is a major logistical challenge.”

The intent of the Million Mile Test Drive is clear: improve consumer perception of the Vauxhall and Opel’s brands..

“Here in Europe, our view is product quality, design, powertrains, ride and handling are better than the image,” Henderson says. “So our job is to get consumers into the vehicles.”

The test-drive vehicles will be discounted and sold at a later date.

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com