Should Opel, Chevy coexist in Europe?

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General Motors flipped back into another Opel crisis this month with the abrupt departure of Karl-Friedrich Stracke as CEO of the German subsidiary.

GM subsequently named Thomas Sedran, a former AlixPartners restructuring consultant, as interim CEO, which suggests a serious rethinking of its European presence.

The moves may have been surprising, but there was a clear signal of trouble a month ago. At the Automotive News Europe Congress, Stracke said GM had moved Opel upmarket too quickly. In the future, he said, Opel will be a brand more buyers can afford, aimed at its traditional customers.

Taken in isolation, the move might make sense. But nothing in the GM empire exists in isolation.

In Europe, GM has been trying to define separate market space for Opel and Chevrolet, whose cars share many components.

The formula? Opel would move upscale to battle traditional rival Volkswagen, while Chevrolet would target the value niche. This suits Chevy, which is transitioning away from the bargain-basement image it got when GM started slapping the bow tie on Daewoo cars in Europe.

But now that strategy seems to be kaput. Meanwhile, Chevrolet sold 105,201 vehicles in Europe during the first half of this year -- more than 20 percent of Opel/Vauxhall's total of 467,937.

So it appears that GM will have two overlapping brands in Europe. The spin, I guess, will be that Chevy's American identity will distinguish it from Opel.

You can be forgiven for thinking you've heard this before -- because you have. It's strikingly reminiscent of the tortured brand DNA/ psychographic/demographic rationales that GM executives concocted in the United States to explain why there was really no overlap among Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, Saturn and Oldsmobile.

GM executives' time would be better spent deciding if they need two very similar brands in Europe and, if not, which is the keeper.

You can reach Dave Guilford at dguilford@crain.com. -- Follow Dave on

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