TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Through the end of June, General Motors Corp. has sold 7,100 Chevrolet SSR roadsters, which may not sound like big sales for the world’s largest auto maker.

But the sporty retro-truck can claim responsibility for three times as many Chevy pickups rolling out of showrooms by the end of the year, because enchanted consumers walked through the door to at least ogle the SSR, according to a new study.

Paul Wilbur, president and CEO of the ASC Inc., tells the Management Briefing Seminars here on Thursday about a new study that quantifies the “halo effect” that a sexy and stylish sports car can have on a brand’s overall sales.

ASC CEO Paul Wilbur, with his own SSR Blackbird 425.

Foresight Research of Rochester, MI, interviewed 2,200 ’04 Chevy Silverado and Avalanche buyers in April and May and found the SSR “completely influenced” 8% of the respondents to visit a Chevy dealership. By extension, the data suggests 22,000 Silverado and Avalanche sales will occur by the end of the calendar year because of the SSR.

ASC has a vested interest in strong sales for the SSR, as the Southgate, MI, supplier played a key role in developing the truck.

But Wilbur says the sales boost for other vehicles in GM’s stable is equally important.

“It’s one more justification as to why you do a niche vehicle, rather than the absolute sales of the niche vehicle itself,” Wilbur says. “Cars like the Ford GT will clearly pull people into the showroom, even though they can’t afford to buy a GT. And if on their way out they buy something Ford, I think it’s a nice new quantitative factor.”

The study is significant because it confirms what many auto makers have suspected for years. And even if the niche vehicle itself may sell in small numbers, Wilbur says the business model works effectively for ASC.

“People are too quick to judge a vehicle by itself without considering the impact on other showroom traffic,” Wilbur says.

ASC did not commission the research but is a charter subscriber to the syndicated study.

A second aspect of the 2004 High Image and Specialty Vehicle Study was interviews with 40,000 vehicle buyers who purchased or leased one of 33 designated vehicles, including the Mercedes SLK, Toyota MR2 Spyder, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Chevy Corvette, Hummer H2 and Honda S2000.

The study found that specialty vehicles such as these go a long way in enhancing brand equity, creating brand loyalty and helping reduce costly incentives.

For other brands, the study anticipates Ford Motor Co. will sell an additional 28,000 F-150s this year because of showroom traffic generated by the F-150 Lightning high-performance model.

Likewise, the halo effect of the Dodge Viper is expected to help Chrysler Group generate an additional 8,000 sales of Dodge Ram pickups, according to the study.

The SSR, which launched in 2003, has been ASC’s most visible niche-vehicle program. The supplier assumed much of the development expenses and ships 42 separate subassemblies to GM’s Lansing, MI, Craft Centre for final assembly.

As for other niche-vehicle programs, Wilbur says ASC has at least 10 in the pipeline to launch within the next 18 months, although he cannot discuss them until the customer grants permission. The programs include “everything from body kits to convertibles to niche vehicles.”

tmurphy@primediabusiness.com