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GM expands Latin American marketing push

The automaker announces a marketing partnership with Universo Online, the largest Internet service provider in Latin America.

    General Motors announced Wednesday a marketing partnership with Universo Online, the largest Internet service provider in Latin America, to create a convenient conduit for Internet-savvy car shoppers far south of the border.

    GM said the deal will give the world's largest automaker "premium positioning" on Universo's nation-by-nation portals and related sites for GM's flagship Latin brand, Chevrolet. Detroit-based GM and Miami-based Universo will also become partners in cross-promotional advertising on other sites, create co-branded "micro sites" and sponsor sweepstakes for free vehicles.

    The companies will also work together in marketing pitches outside the Web, targeting GM and Universo customers with direct mail, e-mail and other sales campaigns. GM, the largest e-commerce player in Latin America with $250 million in online revenue, will advertise models through Universo's automobile site, UOL Carros.

    "This agreement is a landmark for the Internet business development throughout Latin America," Luis Frias, CEO of Universo, said in a statement Wednesday. He characterized the deal as "two leading companies joining efforts to leverage sales using mechanisms that the Internet industry has developed with strong success, allowing them to speak straight out to the customers."

    GM, which began operations in Latin America more than 75 years ago, has a network of almost 1,000 dealers from Central America to Argentina. (GM's Mexican operations are included in the company's North American division.) GM's Latin American subsidiary sold 447,508 vehicles last year, capturing 20.5 percent of the regional market. GM has been selling roughly 80 percent of its Celta hatchbacks directly on a special Web site since the $6,955 model was introduced in September.

    Universo has 14.6 million registered members, more than any other Latin American ISP. In the first quarter of 2001, it recorded 6.1 billion page views. In Brazil, Universo's largest market, Universo has more than 1 million paid access subscribers in more than 200 cities, capturing 80 percent of Brazilian Internet users, according to independent auditors.

    The deal will initially connect Universo employees and those of Sao Paulo, Brazil-based GM do Brasil, targeting customers in Brazil, Argentina and Colombia. It will then be phased into other countries with high percentages of Internet users, such as Chile, Venezuela and Mexico.

    GM has already begun to develop Internet strategies for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela. But the Universo deal is the first regional partnership with an ISP for GM.

    The automaker announced a sweeping marketing partnership with America Online in January 2000, the same day AOL and Time Warner announced their merger. Earlier this month, GM and AOL Time Warner's America Online unit extended the agreement, with AOL promoting GM's information and inventory site GMBuyPower.com.