Realizing that one of its keys to survival is retaining existing owners, General Motors is proactively enticing nearly one million customers – those loyal to now-closed dealerships – with significant financial incentives. According to Automotive News, GM started sending 950,000 letters out last week to customers of stores which have shut down or lost a brand franchise. Included in the correspondence are $1,000 to $2,000 discounts towards purchasing vehicles from one of GM's four surviving U.S. brands (the incentive amount is based on the customer's "likelihood to purchase a GM vehicle and the relative distance to the next closest dealer," according to a letter GM sent to dealers outlining the program).

General Motors has about 5,860 dealerships right now. A total of 1,839 have agreed to shut down by October of 2010, helping the company downsize to between 3,600 and 4,000 retailers over the long term. While this incentive is scheduled to end January 4, a second wave of incentives (including one targeting Saturn customers) is expected to begin early next year. In addition, GM has also issued a service offer which runs through May that includes free vehicle inspections and tire rotations to displaced customers.

The retention programs – obviously meant to move customers between stores – have dealer advocate groups up in arms. Some dealers are still actively trying to get their franchises off the "kill list," and GM has said recently that some may in fact be welcomed back into the fold. As such, Automotive News quotes Tamara Darvish, a leader of the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights as saying "This is an inappropriate time to take such an aggressive measure... If in fact dealer rights are to be restored, why would GM go in and move all those customers?"

[Source: Automotive News, subs. req'd | Image: Mark Ralston/Getty]