General Motors hopes to raise the Chevrolet brand to the level of Apple, one of the world’s most well-known and respected brands, says Chief Marketing Officer Joel Ewanick.

“We have to step up above and beyond what’s going on in the automotive space,” Ewanick says during the auto maker’s Second Annual Global Business Conference for financial analysts. Currently, he notes, there are no automotive names among the world’s top 24 brands.

Ewanick divulges positioning for all GM’s brands on a global scale, noting Chevrolet, as a “global mainstream” brand, will be sold in almost all major markets as the “car for life’s journey.”

“There’s more similarities in a Chevy owner around the world than you might imagine,” he says, noting the brand is beloved, in particular, by Brazilians.

Buick is seen as a regional luxury brand for North America and China, promising “inviting luxury” for buyers, while Cadillac promises “red-blooded luxury.” Together they will flank traditional luxury brands such as Lexus, Mercedes, Acura and BMW.

“We’ve pushed (Buick and Cadillac) to the polar ends of the luxury spectrum,” Ewanick says.

GMC is the auto maker’s sole North America-only brand, falling under the “regional premium” moniker in GM’s portfolio and promising “professional-grade-up for the challenge.”

Opel is viewed as “regional mainstream” in Europe and Russia, and Vauxhall and Holden “local mainstream” for the U.K. and Australia, respectively.

“Opel is a brand that gives us a huge opportunity in Europe,” Ewanick says of GM’s ability to use it to battle Volkswagen on its home turf of Germany as a more premium brand than Chevrolet.

He says short-term “news hiccups” may be giving industry watchers pause about Opel’s future, but surveys show it is well-regarded and its newest products have been well-received in Europe.

As it does now, GM expects the Chevrolet brand to comprise the majority of its sales by 2016, and is the only brand seen rising, from 61% of GM’s global mix in 2010 to 65% in five years.

Opel should hold steady at 13% of the mix in 2016, as will Cadillac (3%) and Holden (2%). Buick, GMC and Vauxhall each will drop a point to 9%, 5% and 3%, respectively.

GM also lays out its dealership-remodeling plans, showing ‘before’ pictures Don Johnson, vice president-U.S. sales operations, calls an “embarrassment.”

“The dealers are our everyday face to consumers,” Johnson says. “We need to create a warm and welcoming retail shopping environment.”

Ewanick says updated stores should be particularly attractive to GM customers in California and New York, where the auto maker’s brands have struggled against Japanese competitors.

Some 460-plus GM U.S. stores will be remodeled by the end of this year, with more than 4,000 undergoing a makeover by the end of 2014.

The remodeling pace has picked up 20%-30% in the past 12 months, but signage supplies and staff limitations are causing some bottlenecks, Johnson says.

Providing dealers meet certain requirements, including engaging in digital marketing, GM will foot some of the upgrade costs.

Johnson won’t divulge the average price tag for the showroom makeovers, but notes 96% of GM dealers, accounting for 99% of the auto maker’s U.S. retail volume, are participating in the program.

GM says it will sell an average 493 vehicles per dealer in 2011, the highest rate of any domestic auto maker and GM’s highest throughput since 2002. The pace is up 49% from 2009.

“While this is good news and great progress, it’s simply not enough,” Johnson says.

Today some 92.8% of GM’s U.S. dealerships are profitable, up 15 points from 2009 and the highest percentage since 1976, he says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com