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GM brands in Europe has specific roles, sales chief says

Over the past two years, General Motor Europe has set up defined roles for each of its brands, says Johathan Browning, vice president of sales, marketing and after sales for General Motors Europe.

He talked with reporter Harald Hamprecht. Edited comments follow: GM is the world's largest carmaker with 11 car and truck brands. But you are not known as the world's best brand managers. When will that change? We have never worked as hard on brand management, clarifying roles and the points of differentiation for each of our brands, as in the past 24 months. In that time we have transformed ourselves into a true European multi-brand organization. In what way? We have clearly defined the scope and strengths of each of our brands and now have consistently defined, unique targets groups for each brand in Europe. We are very disciplined about upholding this differentiation as we plan new product portfolios, set prices, and develop our communications and marketing campaigns. That's the theory. How does it work in practice? One example is the GM Europe Multi-Brand Board we have established. Alongside our European President Carl-Peter Forster and myself, the heads of all the brands as well as our top designers and engineers discuss the future positioning of our brands, their implementation roadmaps so to speak. My multi-brand team, including the brand leaders, Hardy Spranger (Chevrolet), Alain Visser (Opel) and Knut Simonsson (Saab), are responsible for defining and executing those activities. What have you achieved so far? One of our most important decisions is that it is not necessary for every brand to cover every segment. We are clear about which segments which brands will target in Europe. The same work has been underway in the United States. There, for example, Cadillac and Chevrolet offer a full portfolio, while Pontiac's new lineup focuses on style, sport and value, Buick on vehicles that offer high quality and elegance, while GMC targets customers looking for precisely engineered, premium pickups, SUVs and vans. What does that mean in Europe? For example, Opel/Vauxhall will continue to be our core mainstream brand, covering the broadest array of segments from small to upper mid-size segments, delivering bold, versatile and fun to drive cars. Does that mean the brand will not offer a true top-of-the-range entry? Corsa, Astra and Zafira should be among the strongest expressions of the Opel/Vauxhall brand. The rest of the portfolio is built up around them. Our premium brands, Cadillac and Saab, will offer top-of-the-range entries in the conventional sense. That doesn't mean, though, that we see Opel as unable to offer a vehicle larger than today's Vectra or Signum. Wouldn't it be better to concentrate limited resources on a single brand and eliminate the weaker one? No, each of our brands has a role to play. They target entirely different groups of customers. Saab drivers, for example, appreciate Scandinavian design, sportiness and the brand's aircraft heritage that is evident in characteristics like Saab's turbo engines and the driver focus in the "cockpit." So Cadillac buyers don't want sporty cars? Performance is definitely part of the Cadillac package, too. The new V series demonstrates that very impressively. However, Cadillac stands primarily for luxury combined with breakthrough design and state-of-the-art technology. The entry-level Cadillac BLS planned for spring 2006 will use the same architecture as the Opel Vectra and be built at Saab's home plant in Trollhattan. Isn't that going to dilute the value of the brand? No. Cadillac, Saab and Opel have different identities. The rule for every brand and every product is: whatever the customer sees, touches and senses has to be in line with the character of the brand. How will that work for the Opel Antara as a sister model of the planned Chevrolet SUV? The Chevrolet will be positioned as a robust, seven-seat off-roader. It will be right in line with Chevrolet's brand promise with the emphasis on offering a lot of car for the money. Chevrolet will concentrate on proven technology while the Opel Antara will be positioned further upmarket and will be another example of how Opel makes state-of-the-art technology available to large numbers of car buyers. Like the concept shown in Frankfurt, the Antara will be a dynamic, five-seat crossover. Have you been able to use any interesting ideas on multi-brand management you picked up from the PAG group in your time as head of Jaguar? I am sure you'll appreciate that I am not in a position to talk about previous employers. Of course, managers use their experience from previous positions. In the car business there are numerous fascinating examples of more and less successful portfolio management. It is important to understand and learn from them.

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