More stories related to New York Auto Show NEW YORK – General Motors Corp. kicks off an “Only GM” ad campaign as part of its commitment to upping its marketing effort in 2005 in order to pump up a declining market share and slow-out-of-the-gate product launches.

The campaign touts technologies GM deems exclusive to the brand, such as Onstar and Stabilitrac, GM North American President Gary Cowger says during a breakfast kicking off the auto show here.

GM also plans to utilize a new form of Apple iPod advertising, called Podcast, in coming days, while also sinking much of its marketing effort in online campaigns, such as informal “blogs.” Cowger says Bob Lutz, vice chairman-product development, gets 4,000-5,000 visitors a day on his personal blog.

Gary Cowger,
GM North America president

And GM announces a 3-year sponsorship agreement to make Chevrolet the official vehicle of Major League Baseball. It is in effect to the end of the 2007 baseball season. Among the benefits for Chevy: Presenting sponsor for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award and the World Series Most Valuable Player Award. The winners receive the Chevy vehicle of their choice.

Cowger cites BMW AG’s successful Mini Cooper ad launch, executed over the past few years via creative print advertising and quirky online marketing, as a benchmark for GM’s revised marketing strategy – which focuses on value, above all else.

Key to success in the U.S. is a strong marketing team, now led by Mark LaNeve following this month’s management shuffle. (See related story: More Changes to GM’s Sales Ranks)

“It doesn’t matter how good the product is if you don’t have the right market for it,” he says.

Although the recent road has been rocky, Cowger says things are looking up for GM in the U.S. The new Pontiac G6 is coming off its best sales month since launch, and is boasting an average age buyer of 42 – six years younger than the average age for the segment. He says the Chevy Cobalt is inching its way to competing in the top three of the small-car segment and the Buick LaCrosse retail sales outpace like-2004’s Buick Regal and Century deliveries by 48%.

“You know, despite what some media reports have said to the contrary, we do see (demand) for our new vehicles.”

Cowger promises more to come, with product assaults for '06 and '07 similar to '05 levels.

He says GM is well positioned to take advantage of the convertible market, with nine models. Over the past five years, the convertible volume in the U.S. has jumped 18% he says, from 257,000 to 315,000 today.

GM predicts 42 convertible models will populate the market in 2009, up from 23 in 2000. Cowger says such "hot niche products" will define the auto maker's product lineup in the future, noting GM needs to better recognize where niches are and start feeding them when they’re hungry.

“If you don’t give people what they want in this day and age, you’re sunk,” Cowger says.

jstoll@primediabusiness.com