GM tries marketing through mobility
GM’s Maven car-sharing service is a way to get urban millennials to try the company’s vehicles.
DETROIT — Parker Day, a 28-year-old technology consultant in San Francisco, doesn’t own a car. But he might need to someday, and General Motors hopes to win his business whenever that might be by getting him behind the wheel of its vehicles today.
Day is among the more than 23,000 members of Maven, a car-sharing service that GM launched last year and has expanded to 17 North American markets.
For him, Maven is a convenient and reasonably priced way to venture outside the city. For GM, it’s a way to get urban millennials — particularly on the coasts, where its market share lags import brands — to pay for what amount to extended test drives.
“It’s left me with a much better impression of GM cars,” said Day, who has used a Chevrolet Cruze and Malibu. “I had never really thought that much about GM cars, or really American cars. But it seems like they’ve gotten much better. They drive nice, they have heated seats and they get good gas mileage.”
GM and other automakers are branching out into so-called mobility services primarily to protect themselves from projected declines in vehicle ownership. At the same time, they’re finding new opportunities to market vehicles outside their traditional customer base — while also creating additional revenue streams.
Steyn: “Portfolio of opportunities”
Julia Steyn, a former investment banker and aluminum company executive who now heads Maven, said she’s charged with running it as a “real business operation” that’s profitable. But she acknowledges that part of measuring Maven’s success is its potential to funnel people into GM dealerships.
“This is additive to the core business. The whole company is now looking at this as a portfolio of opportunities to provide our customers,” Steyn told Automotive News at the Detroit auto show. “If Maven customers are at the stage when they would like to buy a vehicle, we definitely have an opportunity to help them with that.”
Maven’s membership demographics bear no resemblance to the average GM customer today. Steyn said 78 percent are between ages 18 and 36. The average user is 30 years old with “a very high disposable income,” she said.
To help give users a good impression of GM’s product line, Maven is deploying the new Chevy Bolt EV across its fleet. It also offers the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, as well as several Cadillac nameplates.
Cadillac is launching a separate program designed to show off its lineup with an alternative to ownership. A $1,500-a-month membership in Book by Cadillac provides access to Platinum versions of whatever vehicle suits a customer’s needs at the time. A “white-glove concierge” will swap out a performance sedan with an SUV for winter driving or a family vacation, for example.
The service, announced in January, is initially being offered only around New York, so the company can analyze use patterns and ensure a high level of service before expanding. Cadillac quickly filled its first group of membership slots and already has a waiting list for the program, which covers all taxes and insurance. Many members haven’t owned a Cadillac previously, said Eneuri Acosta, Cadillac’s marketing communications manager.
“We’re giving people the option to try Cadillac for the first time with very little long-term commitment and we think the product will do the talking,” Acosta said. “We believe that there will be many situations where a member joins Book by Cadillac and finds that for the most part they’re keeping one vehicle longer than others, and it will simply make more sense for them to go out and lease or finance that particular vehicle.”
Maven has less potential to turn members into owners so quickly. But increasing awareness of GM’s products without having to buy expensive commercials could be a significant breakthrough.
Jude Odafe, a 30-year-old pharmaceutical consultant in Chicago, has been using Maven to get around while keeping his Jeep Patriot in a suburban lot to save money. He has tried a variety of vehicles to see how different ones drive and feel, once renting a Cadillac Escalade to pick up a big-screen TV.
“Whatever the need is, they have something I can use for it,” Odafe said. “If I ever didn’t get an SUV, I wouldn’t mind getting an Impala. It seems like a really nice car.”