Last Updated Sep 11, 2009 1:16 PM EDT
In trying to get across the message that American cars are good again, GM Chairman Edward E. Whitacre, Jr., who comes tailor-made with a folksy Texas accent, will appear in "May the Best Car Wins" ads that start Sunday. Here's a sample: GM appears to be counting on the fact that people become emotionally attached to their cars--after all, not too many cat and dog owners return their pets for a refund. Whitacre told the New York Times, "People are going to like this guarantee. We're putting a lot on the line here, but I think these risks are necessary."
Visit the new website, and you're asked to take a brief online quiz. "Who builds the best economy/performance/most dependable car?" it asks. So far, people have chosen (from a field of logos) Toyota, Honda, Volvo and BMW. Obviously, GM is out to change that perception. "On September 13 one car company is putting it all on the table," GM says. "The cars will speak for themselves. And the facts just might change some opinions."
Whitacre can be seen as a change agent because he's a Detroit outsider. He's an AT&T lifer, having started there in 1963, and retiring as chairman of the board in 2007 (when he took a $158 million payout). He didn't become GM chairman until June 9, a month before the company emerged from bankruptcy.
Although GM has hot cars such as the new Camaro, rebuilding consumer confidence in its products is one of its biggest priorities. The company sales have dropped 35 percent in 2009, and its market share to 19 percent.
The ads have a message of discovery. Whitacre presents himself as, "probably a lot like you," captive to a fixed notion about GM quality control. But since coming aboard he likes what he's found. "I think you will too," he says.