Chevy’s Revolution Gaining Traction In Sales Figures

Heading into model-year 2004, Chevrolet was saddled with models that were getting long in the tooth and, like many of its American rivals, a sales picture that was seriously unbalanced in favor of trucks.

Chevy car sales did rise by 7 percent in 2003, while truck sales were flat. Still, last year the nameplate sold more than twice as many trucks (1.85 million) as cars (800,000) and was “going to market almost as two different brands—cars and trucks,” said Kim Kosak, general director of advertising and sales promotion.

But then General Motors’ high- volume division brought five new models to market, redesigned a popular model, boosted ad spending and consolidated car and truck marketing under an umbrella campaign, “An American revolution”—all factors that may have contributed to strong sales so far this year: Chevy’s passenger-car sales were up 23 percent in the first quarter, compared with 14 and 17 percent declines, respectively, at domestic rivals Ford and Chrysler, per Ward’s Automotive Reports.

“An American revolution” broke Dec. 31 out of Interpublic Group’s Campbell-Ewald in Warren, Mich. In the last few months, Chevy has launched the Malibu Maxx wagon, Aveo economy model, Colorado light pickup truck, Equinox small SUV and SSR roadster/pickup hybrid. All have been the focus of high-energy, eye-catching or humorous spots in the last four months. The division also redesigned the Malibu sedan—and saw first-quarter sales for the model increase by almost 50 percent.

“We’re focused on a barrage of new products unlike we have ever seen,” said Bill Ludwig, executive creative director at Campbell-Ewald. Following ads that launched on New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards and the NCAA Final Four, “the next big adrenaline shot will be during the Olympics, when we launch the new Corvette,” Ludwig said.

“Our car image needed energy and excitement behind it,” said Kosak. “We could have launched the brands individually, but that wasn’t the most efficient way to spend. We needed a campaign that would shake consumers up and get on their radar screen.”

To keep the iron moving, Chevy increased its adspend and adjusted its media mix. The car maker spent $120 million on “An American revolution” through the first two months of 2004—a 38 percent hike from January and February 2003, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. (Chevrolet’s total 2003 adspend was $590 million.)

In the first two months of this year, Chevrolet spent 715 percent more on spot TV ($30 million) and 20 percent more on network TV ($40 million) than in the same period in 2003. It also boosted spending on national newspapers almost tenfold, to more than $1 million. At the same time, Chevy spent less on cable TV, spot radio and outdoor.

Rex Parker, an analyst at AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, Calif., said the sales bump indicates “a new-car renaissance” for Chevy.

Jim Sanfilippo, an analyst with Omnicom Group’s Automotive Marketing Consultants in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said “An American Revolution” signals “that it’s all Chevrolet, that it’s a big-volume, heart-of-the-market brand that wants to come back big.”