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John Rock makes no bones about it, Oldsmobile has a way to go. The image is tarnished.

Rock should know. He is the general manager of the Oldsmobile division of General Motors.Where did Oldsmobile go wrong? Rock thinks it tried to be all things to all people, did not accent the positive enough and failed to hype its past models enough.

Oldsmobile is not going to make those mistakes again. The newest Oldsmobile, the Aurora, was on the launch pad more than two years ago. Even now, when dealers are building up supplies, the final button has not been pushed. That comes Sept. 9 when the TV blitz begins.

You may see some newspaper advertisements for Aurora before the launch date, but these are purchased by the dealers rather than the factory.

Rock feels today's consumer wants to know a lot about a car even before they start to think about buying it. So "facts" about Aurora have been slowly slipping out over many months.

The idea is to let potential customers get used to the idea of the car before they actually get behind the wheel and drive it.

Aurora is different, and Rock wants to be certain that customers are well aware of that.

The car will be sold very much like Saturn. Profit margins will be slim and therefore discounts, if any, small. Dealers have been on a training cycle to insure that they understand what the car is, where it fits in the product mix and which customers are most likely to buy and why.

Rock says it was necessary to insure that the dealer, the managers and the sales force know the car. This involves both product training and cultural training, because Oldsmobile dealerships have never had a vehicle like Aurora to sell before.

Rock says he has learned from Saturn and he hopes to put this knowledge to good use. He points out that Saturn customer satisfaction is right at the top with Lexus and Infinity. Aurora will be going head to head with cars like the Infinity J-30 and the Lexus 300 so it is essential that Oldsmobile does extremely well in customer sat-is-fac-tion.

Rock says Aurora is designed from the ground up to be a world class sport sedan. Aurora has the ergonomics, the styling and then the powertrain and handling to attract new customers to the General Motors family.

Both the Bravada sport utility vehicle and the Silhouette mini-van are examples of "announced" rather than "launched" machines. Rock believes that both offer spectacular value, and most buyers don't even think of Oldsmobile when they are in the market for either type of vehicle.

Rock says value is a key word in today's market and that more and more Oldsmobiles will be offered that way.

He hopes that bargaining will one day be unnecessary.

What will come along after Aurora? A new Cutlass Supreme, that Rock will position against the Toyota Camry and Nissan Maxima. Then, next year, a restyled Silhouette and Bravada.