VIENTIANE, Laos – General Motors’ strategy to expand into emerging Southeast Asian car markets appears to be a smart move judging by its early success here.

GM officially inaugurated its presence in Laos with the grand opening of its new flagship dealership at a lavish ceremony in the capital city last Novermber, led by Minister of Finance Phouphet Khamphounvong.

The occasion marked an important step in the auto maker’s plan to introduce the Chevrolet brand into the potentially lucrative 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Owned and operated by the Manignom Auto Group, a Laotian industrial conglomerate with automotive industry experience, the new LAK303 billion ($40 million) state-of-the-art facility set a benchmark for GM. At 53,820 sq.-ft. (5,000 sq.-m), the dealership is the region’s largest.

“We believe in Chevrolet and GM, and we see opportunities in (the) Laos automotive market in the future,” says Phuvares Kongwatthanasupa, Manignom’s managing director.

“GM is upbeat about its prospects in this emerging market,” says Akshay Jaising, director-export sales and Southeast Asia distributor operations for the U.S. auto maker. “We are extremely excited about launching Chevrolet in Laos and believe our strong portfolio of products will be well-received.”

Manignom President and CEO Souksamone Sihathep says the Laos automotive market is small but growing rapidly, noting his group sees “a trend of more people buying new cars in what used to be a predominantly used-car market.”

The country’s economic indicators back this up. Laos has a population of 6.5 million, with 30% living in urban areas. Jaising describes Laos as having “robust growth,” with gross domestic product forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 7.6% from 2013 to 2015, according to the World Bank.

Manignom set a benchmark in dealership spending with GM’s Laos facility, reflecting its strategy of not cutting corners in an effort to become a significant player in whatever market it enters. Choosing a U.S. brand was an easy decision, reckons Kongwatthanasupa. “Chevrolet has a long history and is experienced in worldwide markets (dating back) 100 years.”

Chevy’s broad product portfolio underpins Manignom’s aims as well, covering all the market segments, from small sedans to sports cars, pickups and SUVs, he says. “We would like to be the new alternative for Laos people who are looking for high-quality vehicles and service excellence. We need to build Chevrolet brand loyalty.”

With an operation to match, there will be “no bargaining with price, like is common with Chinese brands,” Kongwatthanasupa says. Instead, Manignom “aims to (offer) good quality vehicles and aftersales.”

Hyundai-Kia recently has overtaken Toyota as the market leader in Laos, but Manignom believes Chevrolet products can more than match its competitors, especially in terms of reliability and aftersales support. Other rivals include Nissan, Ford and Mazda.

Preparation for the Chevrolet dealership was meticulous. Six to 10 months before its opening, Maningnom sent its sales and aftersales teams to a number of countries for GM training. “This is because we give priority to GM standards,” Kongwatthanasupa says.