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GM Pulls Chevrolet Ad Including Song Decried as Racist

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May 2 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co., seeking to boost China sales 75 percent by 2015, apologized after a Chevrolet ad included a song with references to “the land of Fu Manchu” where all of the girls sing “ching, ching, chop-suey.”

“Our intent was not to offend anyone and we’re deeply sorry if anyone was offended,” Ryndee Carney, a Detroit-based GM spokeswoman, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “We’re reviewing our advertising approval processes to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The English-language ad for the Chevrolet Trax sport-utility vehicle featured a 1920s motif and included music from Austrian performer and disc jockey Parov Stelar, she said. The South China Morning Post reported on the ad, using the word “racist” in a headline.

Jeff Chung, a Hong Kong-based automotive analyst at Daiwa Securities Group Inc., said the incident is unlikely to affect GM’s sales in China.

“They’ve got a good model line-up,” Chung said. “Chinese people are more confident nowadays. If the product is good, then they buy it.”

‘Insensitive Marketing’

Commentary in Chinese social media wasn’t as forgiving.

“It’s hard to imagine that this sort of insensitive marketing appeared in a western country with such a large Chinese population,” Xu Guozhen, a vice president at Siemens AG’s China operations, wrote on his Weibo microblog. “This was a mistake on the part of the GM management in North America.”

GM wants to expand sales in China and plans to spend $11 billion through 2016 on new plants and products in the country. GM is targeting 5 million deliveries in China by 2015. Sales of GM and its Chinese joint ventures increased 11 percent to a record 2.84 million last year. The company already sells more vehicles in China than its home market.

The latest Chevy ad never appeared in China, Carney said. It began running in Canada on March 4 and was also available online through Chevrolet Europe websites, she said. The company ended all versions of the ad by yesterday, Carney said. GM took the step after receiving a complaint, she said.

More Blunders

The episode is one of several marketing blunders prompting public apologies by automakers this year.

Ford Motor Co. apologized in March for ads in India, including a version depicting former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with three tied-up and gagged young women.

The ads weren’t requested by Ford or intended for paid publication, WPP Plc’s JWT India unit said in an e-mailed statement in March. The agency fired an undisclosed number of employees.

Hyundai Motor Co., based in Seoul, and a dealer for GM’s Buick brand apologized for posting on Chinese social media while alluding to an outcry over the murder of a 2-month-old baby. Hyundai also apologized for a promotional video posted on Google Inc.’s YouTube depicting a man trying to kill himself in his vehicle.

GM rose 3.2 percent to $31.16 at the close in New York. The shares have increased 8.1 percent this year, compared with a 12 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim Higgins in Los Angeles at thiggins21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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