GM boosts effort to spur safety renown

DETROIT: General Motors is hoping its announcement last week that two safety features will now come standard on all models will enhance its brand image and force other automakers to talk more about safety.

DETROIT: General Motors is hoping its announcement last week that two safety features will now come standard on all models will enhance its brand image and force other automakers to talk more about safety.

GM announced January 30 that it would make its OnStar telecommunications system and its StabiliTrak electronic stability-control system standard on all vehicles sold in the US and Canada by 2010.

OnStar includes an emergency alert system that notifies emergency-service personnel when a car's airbags have deployed in a crash.

Safety is becoming "a key part of the marketing message - the idea of safety before, during, and after a crash," said product safety communications manager Alan Adler.

He added that the automaker will be announcing an additional safety feature at the Chicago Auto Show press preview days February 9-10.

Dan Johnston, product communications manager for Volvo Cars of North America, agreed that the GM announcement would "up the ante."

Volvo, perhaps more than any other automaker, has long strived to associate its brand with safety. But Johnston said even his company would likely be increasing such messages in the coming year.

"Manufacturers are looking for ways can they differentiate their products, and safety is it," he noted.

Adler pointed out that making the two systems standard "is not strictly a PR issue for us."

GM was motivated by data showing that stability-control systems can reduce the risk of injuries in crashes, he explained.

Nonetheless, GM will be using the changes as major PR points. "I think you are going to start hearing it in policy speeches" by senior executives at GM, Adler said.

"I think people actually are more concerned with safety than they have been in the past," said Bob Austin, general manager, communications for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars NA. Austin previously worked in Volvo PR, where he helped craft its safety messages.

GM has been attempting to refine what each of its individual brands mean while simultaneously strengthening its corporate brand.

"Making safety a hallmark of all its brands is probably a good corporate strategy," Austin said.

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