Chevrolet UK is about to enter an interesting new era, with a raft of new models set to capitalise on recent growth.
The company has, even by its own admission, done surprisingly well in Europe over the past few years – especially in Russia, where it sold 235,000 cars in 2008 to become the number one imported brand and second overall.
And despite those sales shrinking to around 80,000 this year, the company has held onto its position and market share in a declining market. It has similarly respectable outlook in the UK.
Wayne Brannon, Chevrolet Europe’s president and managing director, summed it up: “We’ve done better than we thought.”
He said: “We’ve been in transition since we bought the assets of the bankrupted Daewoo motor company in 2005.
“From 2005 to 2010, we thought we’d let people know we’re here and we’d build our dealer network. But we didn’t have any aspirations for the kind of growth we’ve had. We’ve just tried to get through this period with the legacy products.”
He referred to cars like the Lacetti and the Matiz, the latter soon be replaced by the bold new Spark.
Although Brannon described the old guard as “competent cars at a fair price”, he believes the new Spark is “a huge leap in terms of feel and content – the next generation where you get value and style”.
Mark Terry, Chevrolet UK’s managing director, agreed: “We are GM’s global foundation brand and since becoming established in Europe in 2005 it has been our intention to move away from legacy products into new areas. We did that first with Captiva, to a certain extent with Cruze and Spark, and will do so with Orlando” (the forthcoming MPV/SUV crossover).
“We want to appeal to a younger demographic, but at the same time offer a car that has the same strong appeal to our traditional core customer.
Future Chevrolets will all be strong in terms of styling”. This is, perhaps, a tacit admission that Chevrolet has done well in the UK by courting the “grey pound”’ particularly with its value-driven message, but with the fighting talk, recent pan-European marketing events with young artists and styling that, in Brannon’s words, will be “bold - a little edgy”, the brand will increasingly look to court the young consumer, while keeping their more traditional buyer on-side.
Tying into this is the Volt, Chevy’s range-extender hybrid, surely crucial if any car manufacturer wants to really be cool with younger buyers. It’s a car Terry believes will make Chevrolet a leader in green technology.
Terry was bullish about the brand’s recent UK performance, which he described as “a very good year, sustaining volume and increasing market share” (to 0.94% by November 1), and that’s not just down to scrappage sales either.
“Scrappage has been an advantage to us as well as it has been to other manufacturers in sustaining volume and attracting new customers, but it has never been the core focus of our marketing.
“It’s all very well using an incentive like this to drive volume, as some importers have done, but you have to be careful not to cheapen your brand or risk losing profits.”
Neither does he see the readjustment of VAT as prompting anything more than a spike of sales at the end of the year, and a tailing off thereafter.
Both men see growth through more exciting products in a wider variety of market segments.
“The Chevrolet brand has a very clear identity and is quite separate from Vauxhall, both on an operational and customer-facing level”, said Terry.
The reality is that Chevrolet can’t help but have increasing sales overlap with Luton as its products get more engaging, although as the Vauxhall brand also seems to be attempting to migrate in an upwardly mobile direction, perhaps some of that will be negated.
Brannon believes Chevy holds a unique position as the only non-European and non-Asian brand on the mass market and he’s determined that the Americana values remain at the core of its appeal.
Currently, there is a fair overlap between Vauxhall and Chevy dealers, but although Brannon describes some multi-franchise outlets as a ”constant struggle” to make Chevy their priority, he’s happy with dealers that, he says, “understand the customers in the community and put focus on the products”.
“I don’t see a need to expand the dealer network to get where we want to be”, he added. “I think we can have a lot of growth with the same network.” Terry agreed, with continuation seemingly
the key: “Our dealers have, and always have had, exclusive contracts with Chevrolet UK – even those at multi-brand sites.
As such, they will see very little operational change. As for growing the network, this is something we will look at doing in line with growing our brand - our plans in terms of R&D haven’t changed at all”.