FRANKFURT -- General Motors executives say they're hatching a plan for how best to position Chevrolet and Opel/Vauxhall in Europe; analysts say they overlap too much to coexist and grow together.
But there seems to be disagreement among the managers on the extent of the branding problem.
Thomas Sedran, a former corporate restructuring consultant who this summer replaced Susan Docherty as head of Chevrolet Europe, says there's minimal cross-shopping between Chevrolet and Opel, even though both are seen as mainstream value marques in Europe.
"We see very little interaction between these two brands," Sedran told reporters at the auto show here last week.
He said research shows that only 5 percent to 12 percent of Chevrolet buyers also considered Opel among their top three choices. The same low degree of cross-shopping applies to Opel buyers, Sedran said.
But Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann, hired early this year to execute a turnaround of GM's money-losing European subsidiary, says the Opel and Chevrolet product portfolios are too close for comfort. Opel has tried to move its brand upmarket in recent years.
"Chevrolet had a lot of budget product," Neumann told reporters in a separate meeting. "Chevrolet now has some product which is, in my opinion, too close with the Opel product."
Neumann points to the Chevrolet Trax, a subcompact crossover launched in Europe this summer that is essentially a rebadged Opel Mokka, with fewer advanced features. In Germany, the Trax starts at 16,990 euros, 2,000 euros less than the Mokka. "The product we want to do in the future should differentiate stronger and more than these two," Neumann said.
Jump-starting Chevrolet's sales in Europe is a priority for GM CEO Dan Akerson, who is pressing for global expansion of the brand, which accounts for more than half of GM's overall revenue. But GM can't let those sales come at the expense of Opel, which outsells Chevrolet in Europe by a 6-to-1 margin.
Akerson in June expressed disappointment with Chevrolet's European performance and said he is counting on Sedran for "a fresh approach." He said Sedran "understands the channel conflicts we've inevitably had between Opel and Chevrolet."
Chevrolet has struggled in Europe. Through August, its sales in EU and EFTA markets sank 22 percent, to 101,128 units, according to the latest figures available from the industry organization ACEA. That's worse than the overall market, which fell 5 percent.