Boosting Car Sales, By Design


Domestic automakers have taken their share of lumps in recent years, from extensive job layoffs to hits to their reputations for quality.

Now, the nation's biggest car producer, General Motors, is counting on a slew of good car model reviews to rev up slumping sales, reports CBS News' Russ Mitchell.

When Adam Berman and his wife Jen decided to buy a new SUV for their family, they did something they have never done before: they shopped with General Motors.

"It is a big switch mentally to come back, but we've had nothing but good experiences from speaking to people that have had GMs recently," said Adam Berman.

Berman's father always drove GM cars, but this is his first.

"All of the vehicles have the 100,000-mile warranty and the five-year warranties," said Berman. "It just goes to show you they're standing behind their vehicles."

Berman, who waited three months for his GMC Acadia, is the kind of buyer the embattled automaker is trying to reach. After GM slipped to second place, behind Toyota, as the world's top auto seller, GM's U.S. market share, which was 35 percent 15 years ago, bottomed out at 24 percent last year. The company hopes a turnaround begins at home.

"It's painfully slow, but the surest way to do it is to just do great vehicles," said Robert Lutz, vice chairman of global product development for General Motors. "And that's what we are focused on."

Legendary design guru Robert Lutz came to GM six years ago to spruce up their line.

At the Los Angeles Auto Show, Lutz was touting vehicles getting the company's best reviews in years, like the new Chevy Malibu, the Cadillac CTS, and the Buick Enclave.

"We can't expect a 30-year decline to be reversed overnight," said Lutz. "Just because we're now producing great cars all of sudden sales come surging back. Because people's opinions of brands take a certain amount of time to change."

Time for critically acclaimed cars to catch on, like the Saturn Aura, named North American Car of the Year by auto writers.

"Two years afterwards, people still say, 'what kind of GM car should I buy?'" "I say, 'go look at the Saturn Aura.' They say, 'a Saturn what?' That's bad."

Advertising can jump-start word of mouth, but, ultimately, car raters say it comes down to vehicle performance.

"Unfortunately, their vehicles are still, you know, waving around the average, either above or below," said David Champion, director of automobile testing at Consumer Reports. "They really need to button down their reliability."

Better reliability being the key for those first-time buyers, like Adam Berman, to stick with GM.

"We talk to people that have Hondas: 'All I've done is serviced it. Nothing's gone wrong. I've got 150,000 miles on it. I'd love to buy a new car, but this one keeps going.' That's where they need to be."