With its sales up considerably and new Alero and Intrigue beginning to appeal to a cross-generational audience, Oldsmobile says marketing efforts advertising its reinvention are far from over.

Olds, which kicked off its new “Start Something” ad campaign in January with a high profile Super Bowl spot, says it will continue support of its popular cars while also bringing a new focus to its Silhouette minivan and Bravada sport/utility vehicle.

“Unfortunately we haven't supported some of our brands with national weight yet,” says Oldsmobile Marketing General Manager Karen C. Francis. “We're just now this month going to support Silhouette. Silhouette hasn't been on air all year. Bravada we haven't gone national; we're going more regional.” A bigger promotional push is planned for Bravada in the fall, she says.

Despite the lack of advertising, Ms. Francis believes Silhouette is doing well this year thanks to its new TV/VCR option, ordered by about 34% of buyers. “It would probably be higher if we could make them,” Ms. Francis says of the feature. The Silhouette Premier will be taken even more up-market, says a source at Olds, with a larger screen (5.6 ins. to 6.4 ins.) and wireless headphones. It will be available in early 2000.

Bravada's slight fall in sales this year is partly due to inventory issues, she says. Olds initially sent too many to the Southwest and not enough to the Northeast. Also a factor is competition from the Cadillac Escalade, because 800 of Olds' 2,800 dealers also carry Cadillac. But Ms. Francis believes that is a temporary problem, affecting buyers who are looking for either bigger vehicles or ones with more prestige. Bravada is slated to get larger and more upscale when it is changed over to the upcoming GMT360 platform in '01.

Ms. Francis says the public perception of Oldsmobile has improved by 20% thanks to the “Start Something” commercials. And she has the numbers to back her up. Through April, Oldsmobile calendar year sales are up 23.7% compared to year-ago (125,484 vs. 101,462) — the biggest increase of any GM domestic division.

“We're getting great showroom traffic, not only in the numbers, but also the types of people. We're getting younger people who have families who have never had an Oldsmobile before. They're trading in Hondas and Toyotas for our cars, which is great for our dealers because they're getting a new person into their dealership. And then they also make pretty good money on the trade when they sell (the Honda or Toyota) as a used car,” says Ms. Francis.

Intrigue's conquest rate is running at 50%, 24% from imports. In California, three out of four buyers trading in a vehicle are trading in Toyotas or Hondas, she says. Alero has been on sale too short a time to track whether it is having the same success, she adds.

Ms. Frances is forecasting a sales volume of 375,000 units this year. Further growth would require an enhanced product portfolio, especially new truck or crossover-type vehicles, she says. While Olds is still mainly a car division, Ms. Francis says that the division ideally should be 50/50 car/truck. First on her wish list is a new crossover-type vehicle, but she says that the GM strategy board has not yet approved such a product for Oldsmobile.

Olds is working on a sixth model for its product portfolio, she says, declining to be more specific.

However, Olds won't be getting a version of the Escalade full-size SUV, says one insider. “We're not going to be in there with Cadillac and the Escalade,” says the Olds source. “There are brand issues there, and not every (brand) should play in that end of the market.”