Amid rumors, LaNeve backs B-P-G

DETROIT -- General Motors sales chief Mark LaNeve is mounting a stout defense of the company's Buick-Pontiac-GMC brand strategy, but that may not offer much consolation to dealers.

In an interview last week, LaNeve denied reports that the company is considering a proposal to dump Pontiac and GMC.

"Rumors that GMC is going away are just unfounded, unsubstantiated and untrue," LaNeve said, responding to reports that President Barack Obama's automotive task force is pressuring GM to dump those brands. "Buick and GMC are very profitable brands."

Last year GMC sold 361,739 vehicles, down 25 percent from 2007. Pontiac sold 246,659 units, down 24 percent.

Although sales are down, GMC still has a strong -- and favorable -- brand identity, LaNeve said. But Buick and GMC are interdependent. Buick dealers need GMC's trucks to make money. Likewise, GMC couldn't survive as a stand-alone brand.

"In a pure truck market like Texas, GMC could survive on its own," LaNeve said. "But in most markets, you need both brands to form a channel."

LeNeve did acknowledge that GM may have to eliminate more dealerships -- and do it faster -- than the company originally had proposed. In its Feb. 17 viability plan, GM intended to have 4,100 dealerships by 2014, down from 6,200 today.

The company also said it planned to go to market with four core brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Pontiac would remain as a much smaller brand.

Shrinkage
Last week, GMs Mark LaNeve said the company will
• Keep GMC and Pontiac
• Accelerate its 2014 timetable to close dealerships
• Cut more dealerships than originally planned. On Feb. 17, GM had promised to eliminate 2,000 stores.

The task force rejected that proposal, contending it didn't go far enough.

LaNeve has not announced a new timetable or consolidation target. In the absence of a revised plan, dealers have traded rumors that GM soon will announce draconian reductions of dealer franchises. The expected method: a batch of "Dear John" letters to be mailed to dealers before June 1.

LaNeve denied it. "There is no intent to send a letter out to anybody," he said. "We've got a vision how [the new plan] would look, but how we get there is still under discussion."

In other news, LaNeve said GM:

-- Expects to produce 40,000 Chevrolet Camaros this year, in response to strong dealer orders for the sporty coupe.

-- Has enjoyed a 15 percent uptick in retail sales so far in April, compared with the same period in March.

You can reach David Sedgwick at dsedgwick@crain.com

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