GM to offer test drives, including rivals' cars

CHICAGO, March 24 Wed Mar 24, 2010 5:30pm EDT

CHICAGO, March 24 (Reuters) - General Motors Co [GM.UL] plans to lease retail space in four U.S. cities to offer shoppers the chance to test drive not only three Chevrolet vehicles but those of its largest rivals, a top marketing executive for the U.S. automaker said on Wednesday.

Under the plan, GM will offer consumers the chance to drive the hot-selling Equinox, the large Traverse crossover and the mid-sized Malibu sedan, Steve Tihanyi, GM's general director of marketing services, said during a conference in Chicago.

The automaker also will give prospective customers the opportunity to drive vehicles from rivals Ford Motor Co (F.N), Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Honda Motor Co Ltd. (7267.T)

"You come in and drive any of these competitive products at your leisure," he said. "You don't have to go running around town to go to a bunch of dealerships."

"It fits perfectly with 'May the best car win,'" Tihanyi said of a slogan used by GM in recent advertising. "We're going to see how it plays out."

GM is leasing space now in free-standing, high-traffic retail locations for the "Test Drive Studio" program, he said. It plans to test the program in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia and may expand from there, he said.

"We're trying to get it up and running by mid-spring," Tihanyi told Reuters, saying the timing was dependent on leasing and preparing the right retail locations.

The idea would be to draw online shoppers at Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com) and Edmunds.com with pop-up ads directing them to the test-drive studios while also luring street traffic in the heavy shopping areas, he said in an interview. (Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Richard Chang)