NICK GIBBS

Ford exec blames Chevy Europe's downfall on 'mixed messages'

Nick Gibbs is UK correspondent at Automotive News Europe.Nick Gibbs is UK correspondent at Automotive News Europe.
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Wondering what Ford’s view was on General Motors’ decision to pull Chevrolet from Europe, I put the question to Ford of Europe Chief Operating Officer Barb Samardzich.

“That was interesting. When the market is tough, having mixed messages on your brand doesn’t make it any easier,” she told me.

Samardzich was referring to Chevy’s overlap with Opel/Vauxhall. Her view was that Ford’s job in Europe is a lot simpler because it can focus all its attention on one brand: “so we know exactly what we’re standing for.”

Samardzich is right. GM failed to properly separate Opel/Vauxhall and Chevrolet in the minds of consumers, but successfully positioning different brands from the same automaker isn’t impossible. Volkswagen has shown that selling multiple brands sharing common platforms is both possible – and profitable – even when the market is tough.

Chevrolet’s main problem is that its Korean-built range isn’t designed with Europe’s needs in mind. Ford could be making the same mistake as it adds U.S.-centric models such as the Mustang muscle car and Edge large SUV to its European lineup.

Chevrolet’s sole concessions to local tastes were the hatchback and station wagon versions of the Cruze mid-sized sedan, but those models weren’t enough to give the brand any traction with car buyers.

Chevy’s annual European sales have been about 200,000, while the similarly ambitious budget Korean brand Kia reached 350,000 last year and its sister brand Hyundai hit 475,000.

Kia and Hyundai models are produced by the same mother company but they succeed because most of the vehicles the brands sell in Europe are designed, developed and built here.

When I spoke to Chevy’s former European head, Susan Docherty, in late 2012 she said that buyers knew Chevy as an American brand and those customers aspired one day to own a Corvette or a Camaro sports car. But she also admitted that few people in Europe named Chevrolet when asked by market researchers to list the carmakers they know.

Ford should take heed. Chevy’s flop shows that one-size-fits-all global brand aspirations originating in the United States probably won’t work in Europe.

You can reach Nick Gibbs at nick.gibbs@btinternet.com.

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