I'm sorry. Is the headline a little harsh?

Well, I think deservedly so. And here's why (and just so you know I am not making this up, here's the link to General Motors' (NYSE:GM) website to prove it): Starting today and running through July 6, 2004, GM will pay $250 cash to any customer who:

  1. Takes any GM-family vehicle home for a "24-hour test drive" and then
  2. Buys another company's car instead of the GM car.

Call it a "customer disloyalty" program.

I know, I know. Desperate times call for desperate measures. And the 24-hour test drive idea was pretty clever in and of itself. Send a car home with a gal (or even better, send a pickup truck home with a guy) and chances are pretty good she or he will fall in love with it and decide to pay up. Fact is, that marketing idea probably helped GM post its impressive May results. But somebody in GM's marketing department has completely blown a gasket this time. When you offer a guy free money to not buy the truck, that totally disrupts the man-truck bond!

Think about it. Say you really have your heart set on a fancy new Dodge Durango from DaimlerChrysler (NYSE:DCX). Or maybe one of the whiz-bang new Ford (NYSE:F) Escape hybrid SUVs. But for all that Dodge or Ford is offering with a hefty sales incentive, you think the price is still a bit steep.

Never fear, oh intrepid consumer, hero of the American economy. GM is here to bail you out. Just pick yourself up a Chevy, a Buick, whatever (it doesn't matter which one, because you aren't going to buy it anyway), take it home and park it in the driveway, then fill out some papers and pick yourself up a nice fat check from GM after you purchase the competitor's car or truck, no questions asked.

Now if you are asking yourself, why didn't the Japanese think of this idea, here's the answer: The Japanese aren't idiots. Think Toyota (NYSE:TM) would pay you $250 if you really would rather have a Buick? No way. Think Honda (NYSE:HMC) is going to subsidize Nissan's (NASDAQ:NSANY) rocketing sales expansion? Not a chance. All the big Japanese manufacturers' sales and profits are doing just fine without help from boneheaded marketing gimmicks.

With one notable exception. Mitsubishi's sales have been pathetic of late. And coincidentally, the only other car company I know of that has ever tried to run a customer disloyalty program similar to GM's was, you got it, Mitsubishi.

Fool contributor Rich Smith recently bought a used GM-brand truck sight unseen on eBay. But he has never bought stock in any company mentioned in this article.