GM’s challenge with global product platforms includes building vehicles that meet individual market requirements and maximizing common content, while also paying close attention to the needs of each market.
Tim Lee (center), GM vice president and president-International Operations.
will enter 2013 with its restructured business humming in all regions with the exception of Western Europe, where the auto maker must continue to make adjustments to its capacity and workforce to align itself with plummeting demand.
GM’s struggles in Europe are shared by other major auto makers as they scramble to right-size their business and enhance operational efficiencies to keep their heads above water.
GM took a major step in that direction earlier this year by inking an alliance with French auto makerPeugeot Citroen, an initiative focused on platform- and parts-sharing and combined purchasing expected to save $2 billion annually within five years.
The auto maker also is looking to take further advantage of its position in China, Brazil, Russia and India, where it ranks among the industry leaders.
GM’s push into China decades ago helped position it as the No.1 foreign auto maker today, and it wants to further grow manufacturing capacity and its dealer network. The auto maker has similar plans for Brazil, which despite a recent cool-down remains one of the world’s most promising markets.
Tim Lee, GM vice president and president-International Operations, oversees operations in Asia/Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. He also is responsible for Chevrolet Europe.
Lee serves on the Opel supervisory board helping lead GM’s turnaround in Europe and is chairman of both GM Korea and Shanghai GM. Earlier this year, he took over responsibility for GM’s global manufacturing operations as well.
Lee offers a snapshot of the challenges facing the global industry in 2013 and GM’s plan for the coming year in an email interview. The following is an edited version of that interview:
WardsAuto: What is your outlook for the European market in 2013, and how will it affect your business performance?
Lee: We remain concerned about the macroeconomic trends in Western and Central Europe. There is consensus that 2013 will be another difficult year for the automotive industry in Europe, especially in Western Europe.
GM is adopting a series of measures that within this environment will enable our operations in Europe to become healthy and be in a position for long-term growth.
WardsAuto: Do you see the need to increase, decrease or maintain your global manufacturing capacity in the coming year? Which market segments are ripe for expansion and which face rationalization?
Lee: In the near term, we are looking to improve our global capacity utilization with increased sales and market growth. Of course, this varies region by region. In North America, we closed our plant in Shreveport, LA, this year, but have started up our Spring Hill, TN, plant, which had been on standby.
In South America, we are seeking to improve our capacity utilization and cost position. In Europe, with the exceptionally weak market, we also need to improve our capacity utilization.
Finally, in Asia/Pacific, we do business in many markets, and the picture varies by country. Most important, we need to expand our capacity over time as the China market continues to grow.
Vehicle demand varies by country as well. We are seeing rising demand in a range of segments in different markets, from mini and small cars to luxury vehicles and SUVs.
WardsAuto: What sort of challenges remain in globalizing product platforms?
Lee: The challenges in global product platforms remain unchanged. We need to build vehicles that meet individual market requirements. We also have to maximize common content and specifications to drive economies of scale while paying close attention to different needs that exist in each of our markets.
In addition, as much as the industry has evolved, we still need to meet different regulatory requirements as well as take into account local infrastructure, environment and customer expectations.
WardsAuto: Rank the top five emerging markets. How has the list changed since 2009?
Lee: The top markets haven’t changed since 2009. The BRIC markets were at the top then and can be expected to stay there for quite some time to come.
China remains the most important market due to its absolute size and growth, while the highest absolute rate of growth over the next 10 years is expected to be in India. GM is extremely well-positioned in China and Brazil, and we are making excellent progress in Russia and India. Chevrolet is the top non-domestic vehicle brand in Russia.
WardsAuto: What is your outlook for China in 2013? Now that growth seems to be cooling a bit, comparatively, what will be the primary sales drivers going forward? For example, government policies to curb emissions are said to be slowing new-car demand in urban areas, so will second- and third-tier regions become the focus? To what extent will the government’s focus on promoting domestic auto makers affect GM’s ambitions?
Lee: Over the long term, we remain optimistic about the prospects of the China market.
The following positive factors are the reason for our encouragement: China's economy is likely to grow between 7% and 8% in 2013, and personal income growth will continue to enable more people to buy vehicles.
In fact, the number of first-time buyers in China remains high, and we expect that it will support sustainable growth of vehicle sales. Consumers continue to be attracted to the freedom of personal mobility.
We expect China’s new leadership to support the growth of the economy. Some restrictive policies targeting emissions and congestion in large cities may have an impact on the automotive industry, but we do not expect that impact to be substantial.
The government's focus on wholly Chinese-owned manufacturers should also not have an adverse impact on GM's business in China.
GM offers the broadest range of products with the latest technologies for a variety of consumers across China, both in Tier 1 and in lower-tier cities. We expect our strong product offering and dealer-network-expansion effort to enable GM to maintain our leadership position among global auto makers in China in 2013.
WardsAuto: What is your outlook for Russia in 2013 and what are the primary drivers of growth going forward? For example, in what segments does GM see the most opportunity – luxury, midsize or entry-level?
Lee: We expect demand for vehicles in Russia to continue to rise in 2013, although at a slower rate than in 2012, on the back of steady GDP growth and other favorable economic factors. The industry outlook for 2013 is 3.1 million units, which would take the Russian vehicle market to its pre-economic downturn level faster than had been expected.
Car-B, Car-C and SUVs are the key segments in Russia. Together, they are expected to account for more than half of the market going forward. Car-B and SUVs are the key growth segments. While the Car-C segment's share is declining, it will continue to account for a significant portion of the market.