Chevrolet aims to keep defying Europe's sales slump
Brand boss wants buyers to focus on Korean-built cars, not iconic U.S. models
“We are a small player with big ambitions for growth,” says Chevrolet Europe boss Susan Docherty.
Chevrolet Europe Managing Director Susan Docherty has the task of maintaining the brand's growth in a slumping market. In the first 10 months, Chevrolet's European sales grew 1.9 percent to 150,402, according to industry association ACEA. Docherty took over the top job at Chevrolet Europe on Jan. 1, moving from her previous role as GM 's head of international sales and marketing based in Shanghai. She spoke with Automotive News Europe UK Correspondent Nick Gibbs.
What is General Motors' overall plan for Chevrolet?
Our strategy is to establish Chevrolet as a global iconic brand and right now we are No. 4 after Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen. We would like to see Chevrolet get into the top three. We are very consistent as to what we want the face of Chevrolet to be. Whether consumers are in Mumbai, Shanghai, Sao Paulo or Milan, when they see a Chevrolet, I want them to say, 'Oh, that's a Chevrolet.' We know the strategy works because customers tell us that's why they buy our products.
Does that mean designing cars specifically for Europe doesn't matter?
Our portfolio is global in nature but has regional nuances. A perfect example is our No. 1 nameplate, the Cruze. We offer the sedan, hatchback and wagon in Europe. In the U.S. we only offer the sedan.
Most Chevrolet cars sold in Europe are built in Korea. Do buyers see the brand as Korean or American?
Buyers see us as a brand with American DNA. But we need to improve our brand visibility. When potential buyers are asked which brands they have heard of, they will say Volkswagen, Fiat and so on. We need to get on that list. We're best known for our iconic products such as the Corvette and Camaro. I want them in future to say 'Oh yes, Chevrolet makes the Spark, the Aveo, the Cruze.' We have a lot of people buying a Cruze that have aspirations to own a Corvette or Camaro.
Is value for money the main reason why people in Europe buy a Chevrolet?
The No. 1 reason a person purchases a Chevrolet in Europe is due to exterior styling and design. When you think about Chevrolet versus all the other really great competitors here in Europe, we look very different to everybody else. They see our great American heritage and high level of standard equipment.
The European market slump has led to heavy price discounting. Is Chevrolet doing that?
The market has gone down so it's the law of supply and demand. If there's too much supply, which there was, you have to discount. I'm not saying we didn't discount, but we tried to limit it because our product was fresh and new. We are a small player with big ambitions for growth. We're going to grow in ways that are profitable and we are not in the business of buying market share. That's a recipe for disaster.
Before the slump, Chevrolet targeted annual sales of 1 million cars by 2015-2016 in Europe, including Russia. Can you still achieve that?
I will not predict a volume number, particularly in a declining market. If you look at Europe and listen to the experts, they are predicting the market will not make a full recovery until 2018. We will not grow to a 5 percent market share from 1 percent in a year. We will do it methodically with the right product that meets consumer demand, such as wagons, diesel variants and products like the Trax.
How will you differentiate the Trax subcompact SUV in Europe from its sister model, the Opel Mokka?
Opel's focus for the Mokka is to offer a lot of options. For the Trax, we will bring two trim levels with very high levels of content. The options will be three engine choices, a sunroof and different colors. Our customers will not see these two vehicles as the same.
What are your ambitions for the Trax?
The Trax will compete in a segment I am very excited about. The segment is supposed to grow by 15 percent a year for the foreseeable future. I think it's going to be hot. In a down market you need at least one or two hot segments so you can fuel growth. Chevrolet has DNA in the SUV area and customers know that. They know we build Tahoes and Suburbans and they're familiar with the Trailblazer that we used to sell in Europe. Sales are going to depend on what the plant in Korea can build because it will also build the Mokka and Buick Encore.
Will Chevrolet build cars in Europe?
Right now we source the majority of our cars from Korea. That model works well for us.
Will GM's partnership with PSA/Peugeot-Citroen help Chevrolet?
The benefit for Chevrolet will mostly be on the logistics side.
You can reach Nick Gibbs at email@example.com.