General Motors Corp. plans to give away 1,000 cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles in 56 days beginning Monday as part of a $50 million promotion to generate showroom traffic and build awareness of its nine U.S. brands.
The world's largest automaker expects 5.5 million people to take part in the Hot Button program, which ends Feb. 29. The company said the odds of winning one of its 54 different 2004 models are about one in 5,500.
Steve Hill, GM's director for retail planning, said the company wants to close the gap between many consumers' perceptions of GM and the reality of its product portfolio. He said many buyers don't know that GM's lineup includes brands such as Saab, Saturn and Hummer.
"We need to be intrusive and get people to take notice," Hill said.
GM plans to encourage consumers to participate in the promotion with a marketing campaign that includes TV, print, Internet and direct mail advertising. To take part, consumers must visit a local GM dealership and press a blue OnStar button in a designated promotional vehicle. OnStar, a GM subsidiary, is the nation's largest in-vehicle communications system.
Contestants will be required to provide identifying information — the last four digits of their driver's license number and home phone number — to an OnStar operator, who in turn will tell them whether they've won.
GM said players will not be required to take a test drive or listen to a sales pitch and the identifying information will not be used in future marketing.
All GM models are included in the contest, but winning vehicles will vary. A person may play only once and only one person from a household may enter. GM employees and immediate family members are not eligible, though GM retirees may take part.
Hill said the company hopes to increase traffic at its 7,000 dealerships by 30 to 40 percent during the promotion. Through November, GM's U.S. sales were down 1.7 percent from the same period a year ago.
"We're going to get fresh people in the showroom we haven't had before," Hill said, adding that the automaker will continue to offer aggressive consumer incentives during the contest.
Dan Gorrell, automotive partner at the marketing research firm Strategic Vision, said GM faces several challenges in luring new buyers with the Hot Button endeavor.
While GM has several new products coming to market this year, so do Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group and many foreign competitors. It's also difficult to win back consumers who may have written off one automaker and switched to another, he said.
"Awareness is the first point, but they need something new and different to show people," Gorrell said. "Otherwise they're going to get the same people who've stayed loyal to GM. It's really tough to break through."
GM is no stranger to large _ and expensive _ promotional campaigns. In 2001, GM launched its "Keep America Rolling" incentive program, which offered interest-free financing as a way to jump start sales in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The program sparked an industrywide incentive war that continues today.