GM offers refund to car buyers to win them back

MILWAUKEE -- Looking to regain consumers' trust, General Motors Co. said Thursday new car buyers will be able to return their vehicles within two months of purchase for a full refund, part of a long-awaited new marketing campaign for the biggest American automaker.

The effort will begin next week, seeking to make connections again with American consumers who may be leery of the company since it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year. Chairman Edward Whitacre Jr. will appear in the initial burst of ads, telling consumers in a folksy, Texan accent he too had doubts about GM when he joined on this summer. But he likes the cars he found, and consumers should too.

The company's bid to win back customers is a last-ditch effort to survive. GM received $50 billion in government aid to keep operating earlier this year and it has to pay that back to continue operating. To do that, it must sell cars.

And to make those sales, GM has to change how consumers view it in the marketplace. That starts with showing GM's cars are better than competitors, said GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who delayed retirement to head GM's marketing efforts. He said there is a "monumental chasm" between the public's perception of GM's vehicles and the autos in its current lineup, and the "May the Best Car Win" effort aims to change that.

The company stands behind its cars now and can offer full money-back guarantees, he told reporters on a conference call Thursday. As recently as three years ago, GM would have been faced with a huge risk if it made such an offer, but the company's slate of models is strong and can take on any competitors, especially foreign-made cars, he said.

"We really are in a position today where we can look anybody in the eye and say 'we are as good as or better than everybody else,'" Lutz said.

To prove that, GM is putting its four remaining brands - Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC - directly against foreign competitors, focusing on quality, performance, fuel economy and design. The Chevrolet Equinox will be featured in advertisements directly compared to the Honda CRV, and Cadillacs will target German luxury vehicles, Lutz said.

Whitacre's appearance in the ads will be short-lived as GM shifts focus to its brands, away from the corporation, Lutz said. Individual campaigns for the brands will share common elements but the GM logo and the words GM will not appear, he said. Instead, the brands will be the true focus, since consumers' perception of GM is affected by the company's bankruptcy filing this year.

"We are emancipating the brands and trotting them out in the open," Lutz said.

GM will allow customers who purchase a new vehicle starting next Monday through Nov. 30 to return it, no questions asked, for a full refund within 31 to 60 days from the date of purchase. The vehicles must not have more than 4,000 miles on them and the drivers must be current on their payments. Cars will also be under GM's 100,000-mile five-year powertrain warranty.

The offer applies to brands such as Chevrolet, GMAC, Buick and Cadillac. The Pontiac brand, which GM is phasing out, is not eligible. Leased vehicles are also ineligible.


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