NASHVILLE – Ed Peper, elevated to the top job at Chevrolet in March, is getting accustomed to his new role as the division completes a full-scale revamp of its product portfolio with the introduction of the ’06 Impala.

“Chevrolet is an enormous enterprise,” says Peper, whose previous position as general sales manager for General Motors Corp.’s Northeast region had him overseeing 1,500 dealers for all the GM brands. Peper took over the general manager position at Chevrolet from Brent Dewar, who was elevated to vice president-marketing and advertising for GM North America.

However, he feels sanguine about Chevrolet’s current situation.

“We had 110 days’ supply of vehicles before the employee discount program was launched,” Peper says. “We’re at about 60 days right now, and that’s perfect.

“We’re in the best inventory situation in new models than we have been in a long time,” he adds. “Any business where you can get inventory down is great. Dealers want to buy a lot of vehicles now.”

GM is providing dealers with significant floor plan assistance, Peper admits. Currently, that amounts to two to three months of free floor planning for all models.

“Our goal is to turn inventory quick,” he says, noting that the top 20% of Chevrolet’s 4,100 dealers account for 80% of the division’s volume.

Peper is hopeful that volume pricing – sticker prices that are closer to expected transaction prices – will wean the public from the huge incentives they expect now. The value pricing strategy is being used in the introduction of the new Impala, among other models. (See related story: Revamped Impala Set to Hit Streets With 5.3L V-8)

“We’re not going to be the lowest price in every model, but we’re going to be competitive,” Peper says.

A major driver for the new pricing strategy is the influence of Internet shopping.

“We have to be competitive in Internet pricing or people may not shop (our) brand,” he says.

Though Chevrolet is leading Ford Motor Co.’s Ford brand overall by about 61,000 units now, Peper declines to forecast whether it ultimately will finish ahead of its arch rival at year’s end.

“We’re trying very hard to be the best,” he says. He is particularly buoyed by the 109,000-plus Silverado pickups Chevy sold in June.

“We did that even though it will be replaced next year,” he points out.

Chevy: Can't build enough Colorados.

Sales of the Colorado midsize pickup have also climbed 60%. (See related story: Compact Pickup Sales Slide Halted)

“We can't build enough Colorados,” he says.

Part of Chevrolet’s strategy is to continue to expand its lineup.

“In the next five years, Chevy will have at least as big or bigger choice of models than it has today,” Peper says.

At the same time, Chevrolet is seeking to do breakthrough advertising, Peper says, noting the division did a great deal of promotion of the HHR retro cross/utility vehicle on the Internet.

“We’re taking to the streets, visiting coffee shops and other places where our customers are,” he says.

But the actual advertising approach Chevy will follow will vary with the model.

“We want to spend more on marketing our products, but we’re fine-tuning our media-placement strategy,” he says. “We’re not going to run the same ad in every magazine.”

Much of Chevrolet’s strategy revolves around attracting more customers from groups that it does not do well with now. The division is using new agencies to help in marketing to diverse ethnic groups, for example.

“We will tailor ads according to the diversity of those groups,” Peper says. “We’re sponsoring more African-American and Hispanic cultural events. We want to be there.”

Peper also says Chevrolet’s marketing strategy includes a lot of non-traditional advertising.