World and Nation

Buy a GM, Like It, Or Get Your Money Back

Can a straight-talking Texan and a money-back guarantee persuade American consumers to buy a car from General Motors?

In its first major marketing campaign since emerging from bankruptcy, GM is putting its new chairman, Edward E. Whitacre Jr., in the spotlight as the spokesman for its offer to give customers a full refund within 60 days on any GM car or truck.

The campaign, called “May the Best Car Win,” is part of GM’s effort to change its lingering image as a financially strapped company with substandard products. The first television ads will begin Sunday, featuring Whitacre, the 67-year-old former AT&T chief who was recruited by the federal government.

Whitacre, with his Texas drawl and folksy manner, dismissed comparisons with Lee Iacocca in an interview, though he said he hoped to restore confidence in GM just as Iacocca did with his ads for Chrysler in the 1980s.

“I’m happy to do it, I wanted to do it, and I think it is important to do it,” Whitacre said. “I am convinced that our cars are as good, if not better, than anybody else’s.”

He joked that he did not expect to become as famous as Iacocca, but he did say GM needed to repair its image. “People are going to like this guarantee,” he said. “We’re putting a lot on the line here, but I think that these risks are necessary.”

Other automakers, such as Hyundai, have offered to take cars back if buyer lose their jobs, or to replace a lemon with a new vehicle. But the GM program, which goes into effect Monday, simply guarantees product satisfaction or your money back.

While Iacocca became a legendary figure in automotive history partly because of the success of his ads, other auto executives have not fared as well in TV ads.

Three years ago, a Chrysler campaign featuring Dieter Zetsche, the head of DaimlerChrysler, fell flat when consumers were confused by who exactly “Dr. Z” was.

The TV spots featuring Whitacre will be phased out, with more emphasis directed to the money-back guarantee and GM’s core brands.