PARIS – Chevrolet remains a small but growing brand in Europe, even as the market continues to stumble downward.
Opel/Vauxhall, on the other hand, has been headed in the other direction, losing heaps of money for parentover the past decade, leading at least one analyst to suggest the brand should be dropped and its German operations closed or sold.
But Susan Docherty, head of Chevrolet and Cadillac sales for Europe, insists there’s room for all four brands here and Opel isn’t about to go the way of Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer, all GM brands that bit the dust as part of the auto maker’s walk through bankruptcy.
“You need to make sure you have a brand footprint that makes sense,” she says. “Our brand portfolio is Opel/Vauxhall, Chevrolet and Cadillac, and each brand has to have distinct positioning.
“People who look at a Chevrolet…are very different than the customer that looks at an Opel.”
Chevrolet sales are up 5% year-to-date in an industry down 8%, Docherty says, thanks in part to a spate of 10 new vehicles introduced here over the past 18 months. That product barrage culminated with Thursday’s unveiling of the Trax B-segment cross/utility vehicle at the auto show here.
The Western and Central European markets are extremely tough right now, with incentives and other pricing discounts as high as 20%-30% of gross sales, Docherty says, calling the trend “unbelievable.”
But she believes Chevrolet is hitting the market’s sweet spot with introduction of the Trax and its hot-selling Spark minicar, which accounts for 25% of sales.
The Trax is positioned in what Docherty says is one of Europe’s fastest-growing markets, the B-size SUV sector forecast to grow at a 15% compound-annual rate for the next five years.
“That bodes very well for Chevy, because we’ve got a 75-year history of building SUVs. We’ve got some heritage, which by the way is important to a European consumer,” she says in a roundtable interview with media on the show sidelines.
The new Trax comes equipped with a choice of three engines, 1.4L turbo and 1.6L gasoline powerplants and a 1.7L diesel. It also has Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system and a fold-flat front passenger seat for extra cargo-hauling capability.
The Spark’s recent upward sales sprint comes in part as a result of Europe’s sagging economic picture and higher value-added taxes in some countries that are encouraging buyers to move down market.
Docherty says there remains much work to do to raise awareness of the Chevrolet brand in Europe. Consumers know the marque, but mostly for its Corvette and Camaro performance cars.
“They don’t necessarily know our current lineup,” she says. “(But) I’ve got to spend a lot more time getting awareness up.”
Efforts to do that include GM’s recent deal to sponsor the Manchester United soccer team with its Chevrolet brand. “They’ve got over 600 million fans,” she notes.
Chevrolet, Docherty says, is targeted at a much different buyer than Opel. Chevy customers, 75% of which migrate from other brands, cite styling as the overwhelming No.1 reason for their purchase.
Opel buyers want “German engineering, precision, high levels of technology, deep European roots. They are two different brands.”
There’s also a natural pricing line between the two marques, she says. Chevrolet sources most of its vehicles from Korea, and they are offered with fewer trim levels and options. Opels come with a long list of options and are more technology-driven, she says.
“Customers see (Chevrolet) as the value brand,” she says.
Docherty acknowledges Opel has a hill to climb but says the brand is beginning the journey with the new Adam small car and Trax-twin, the Mokka. “The best way to turn anything around is it has to start with winning product, and you have to get some momentum on your side. You don’t fix any brand in a year. It’s a journey.”
As for Chevrolet and a just settling-in Cadillac (sales will total only about 500-600 units this year), Docherty says she will stick with the game plan in the face of a continued market downturn expected in 2013.
“Don’t get involved in all this heavy discounting,” she says. “The moment you do that you have lost your momentum. We’re still a small player, but I don’t want to lose momentum.”
Docherty says she is targeting a 5% gain in sales for Chevrolet this year to more than 210,000 units. The brand delivered 206,000 vehicles in Europe in 2011.