Study: GM Makes Green Strides

DETROIT In Web discussions and blogs centered on environmental health and sustainability, Toyota and Honda have an unlikely stablemate: General Motors — a bane of environmentalists for spending millions to lobby against fuel-economy mandates.

In a new report by J.D. Power and Associates Web intelligence division, the three automotive brands garnered higher-than-average positive mentions in the auto category. The report analyzed 40 million blog posts between January-June 2008 for several industries including auto, retail, consumer packaged goods and energy.

Across all categories, Whole Foods joined Toyota, Honda and GM as the most positively talked about brands on the Web. Wal-Mart and eBay also received a high volume of mentions in sustainability discussions, but earned below average scores in terms of positive acclaim.

In the energy category, Shell ranked highest in positive mentions, but still generated “lots of skepticism,” said Janet Eden-Harris, vice president of the Web intelligence division at J.D. Power and Associates, Westlake Village, Calif.

“The large energy brands did not do well, but the local utilities did,” Eden-Harris said. The findings could be attributed to the fact that consumers interact monthly with local utilities and are less likely to hear negative stories about them, while they’re exposed daily to high gas prices, which doesn’t generate a lot of love toward energy companies.

But it was the auto industry that was by far the favorite category among bloggers when it came to environmental issues. Three out of four such discussions that mentioned brands involved a car company. Toyota had the most mentions overall, accounting for 14 percent of all posts related to automotive brands and sustainability, per the J.D. Power study. GM ranked a close second in volume, representing 11 percent of all posts.

GM, however, received a higher percentage (49 percent) of positive mentions between January-June, compared with Toyota (46 percent). Honda’s rate of positive mentions was 53 percent, but the brand received a much lower volume (7 percent) than the other two nameplates.

Activities on both advertising and environmental sides have contributed to improved public perception of GM’s green practices, said GM representative Peter Ternes. “On the ad side, we’ve been spending more ad dollars promoting real fuel-economy achievements. On the environmental side, we’ve been doing a lot of advance communications on the electric car Chevy Volt and hydrogen fuel cell Equinox and more,” Ternes said.

For example, GM — which has for some time claimed to have more vehicles than any other automaker that get over 30 miles per gallon — used its sponsorship of the Live Earth concerts last year to launch a campaign about its environmentally friendly practices and vehicles. The multiplatform campaign included full-page ads in national newspapers and a 16-page insert in lifestyle and influencer publications. It was followed up by another campaign, “Gas friendly to gas free,” which walked consumers through several stages of energy independence via a variety of fuels, including E85, electric vehicles and hybrids.

GM spent $950 million on advertising through June, up 5 percent for the same year-ago period, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.