Chevrolet aims for traction in difficult European market

Chevrolet UK has promoted sales director Rory Harvey to managing director following the departure of Andy Carroll (MW last week). But it is likely to be a tough nut for any managing director to crack.

Chevrolet UK has promoted sales director Rory Harvey to managing director following the departure of Andy Carroll (MW last week). But it is likely to be a tough nut for any managing director to crack.

The marque may have been immortalised in Don McLean’s song American Pie but, until 18 months ago, its cars were rarely seen on Europe’s roads. But, following General Motors’ decision to rebrand Daewoo at the end of 2004, there are now more than 20,000 “Chevvies” in the UK, and troubled GM will be hoping the introduction of its most iconic marque into Europe can help revive its fortunes.

Carroll oversaw a solid launch period in this country. Chevrolet sold 15,422 cars in the UK last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and sales to the end of May increased over 20% on 2005. Chevrolet outsold the Ford marque in the US for the first time in two decades last year, and the brand is also popular in South America and Asia.

But the fact that GM has only just launched its value brand in Europe indicates it will be “the most difficult nut to crack”, according to Professor Garel Rhys, director of the Institute of Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff Business School.

Rhys adds: “Chevrolet has got a good range of cars but it will face a great deal of consumer loyalty to opposing brands, so it has got to get it right.”

“The thing that will work in its favour is that the brand has a resonance. There is a feeling that it represents good things in the US, and has been central to the growth of what has been a very vibrant country and economy.

“It has a certain cachet about it which could not really be said about Daewoo.”

Chevrolets were traditionally seen as big American vehicles that did not suit Europe’s roads, but Rhys believes a new model range could help the marque achieve a 3% market share in Europe in the next two to three years. That new range includes the Captiva, a small sports utility vehicle, or SUV, that will launch in September 2006.

Educating the public

A Chevrolet spokesman says the Captiva roll-out is important “from a halo point of view” and will bring more people into Chevrolet’s showrooms.

He adds: “We have spent the past 18 months trying to educate the public to see Chevrolet as a different kind of product but it’s a three-year programme. We are trying to establish a new brand in Europe and we’re going in the right direction.”

Some observers are claiming that Chevrolet UK’s decision not to replace marketing director Rob Smettem, who left in April, shows a lack of commitment to its marketing function, but the Chevrolet spokesman says it is part of an integration programme taking place at GM UK. He adds that Harvey will work closely with Vauxhall’s UK marketing director Andy Gilson and his team on Chevrolet’s marketing operations.

Chevrolet appointed FCB London to handle the pan-European launch of the Captiva following a three-way pitch earlier this year.

Decent and honest

FCB London managing director Enda McCarthy says: “In the US the brand has classic mid-Western values and a ‘roll up your sleeves and get on with it’ attitude that I think could play well in Europe. Chevrolet is all about decent, plain-speaking America, rather than the brash approach we have become more familiar with from other brands.”

Observers believe Chevrolet’s reputation for being decent and honest should help it to succeed in Europe.

Robert Lester

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