Almost since he became CEO of General Motors in the fall of 2010, Dan Akerson has been telling just about anyone who will listen: Chevrolet is GM's global brand.
Of course, Chevy long has been sold throughout the world. Already, more than 60 percent of this all-American brand's sales happen overseas. And it has always been GM's biggest division. But its importance to GM has never been greater.
In the United States, Chevrolet now accounts for 71 percent of GM's sales, up from 61 percent in 2008. Globally, GM expects Chevy to account for 65 percent of overall sales by 2016, up from 51 percent in 2010.
That sales volume means Chevrolet increasingly will dictate product decisions for all of GM's brands, especially because GM is moving more of its vehicles to global, or what it calls "core," platforms.
Meanwhile, global sales will allow Chevrolet to offer vehicles that otherwise might not have had enough U.S. volume to justify their production. One example: The United States will be a secondary market for the next-generation Chevy Colorado mid-sized pickup, which was developed in Brazil and then launched in Thailand this month.
Akerson, 63, says Chevy increasingly will be seen as a "modern" brand known for innovation and technology while still embracing its American roots. In mid-October, he spoke about Chevy's strengthening car lineup, its growth in China and the hurdles to his go-global strategy with Automotive News Publisher Peter Brown, Editor Jason Stein, Industry Editor James B. Treece and Staff Reporter Mike Colias.
What's the direction of the brand, say over the next five years?
Let me just give you a factoid. One hundred years, 209 million cars and trucks, in 140 countries. One of the top five brands in the world and the only one to gain share [globally last year].
It is one of our two global brands, as I've said publicly before -- that and Cadillac. We have more work [to do] on Cadillac to make it a global brand than we do on Chevrolet.
Where do you see Chevrolet being positioned? Is it an innovative, technological brand?
Chevrolet, I think, is a brand that represents the modern world. We're going to offer everything from extended-range electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles to pure hybrids. So we want it to be a technologically gifted brand. That goes with the image of a modern brand.
We want it to be global in scale. About every 61/2 seconds, someone is buying a Chevrolet somewhere in the world. We think that's great. We'd like to get it down to every three seconds.
So our vision is modern, technologically capable, innovative.
Volt is, I think, a statement about what America can really do.
I grew up when we were sending men to the moon. It has been disappointing to me that we've let so many very capable competitors outfox us. I mean, GM is a repository of unbelievable intellectual property. We've got to learn how to commercialize it better, and that's a major thrust within the company.
Is Chevrolet's emphasis on small cars?
Look at the Malibu. When we did our clinics on this thing, more people than not, when it was unbadged, thought it was the BMW. It's a great-looking car.
We're trying to fill the portfolio out so when you walk into a Chevy showroom, you've got it from top to bottom. The Impala comes out in '13. That will be completely revamped, so that's the high end. Then Chevy trucks.
This is a great brand that will sell, I think, anywhere in the world -- and it is. We were up 28 percent, almost 30 percent, in China in 2010. That's on the heels of 50 percent in 2009.
Well, we were part of that growth. Last month, it was the biggest one-month year-over-year growth in the history of Chevrolet in China. It was up 18 percent.
We know the product is well-received -- I think better received overseas, quite frankly, because the bankruptcy was centered on North America. I think we are earning our reputation back.
What's the biggest hurdle to taking Chevy global, and how do you measure success?
Like I said, it's pretty global now. We have about 12 percent market share in the world over all brands, but that's largely Chevrolet. Cadillac is not a global brand yet. It's a good retail brand, but it's not a global brand and it has got a lot of work to do. We have to grow market share.
Right now we're not growing market share in South America. We harvested our position. The Classic [klas-EEK'] in Brazil was basically a warmed-over car, improved, but over 16 years was fundamentally the same car. It was doing OK, but you say to yourself: "We've got to bring all these new and exciting cars to Brazil, and we've got to do it in the next 12 to 24 months." The cadence of introduction in South America is terrific. At the end of the day, to be a global brand, you've got to have share and you've got to have some pricing power. I do think Chevrolet has been restored to the point that we do have the ability. Right now, we have the highest average transaction price in the United States, and we're selling well everywhere. It's strong.
When we talked to dealers about Chevy going global or even Cadillac going global, they said, "Big deal. What's it mean for me?" Today we heard that one reason the Colorado mid-sized pickup can come here is because it has the volume overseas, and so it's sort of a spillover into the U.S. market. Could we see more Chevrolet vehicles in the U.S. lineup because of overseas sales?
Yes. I try to guard against this. We are truly a global company. Sixty percent of Chevrolets are sold outside the United States, and if you think only of the U.S., you're making a serious mistake.
We are an American company that has a global presence and a global business and we've got to compete everywhere.
Scale can manifest itself in product development, engineering and all the like. If we can gain scale by producing more overseas or trial overseas in the case of Colorado, that isn't all bad.
Where does the brand evolve from here?
It's fresh, it's strong. It's probably the strongest lineup we've had at Chevrolet in the last generation or two.
Chevy is strong. It's robust, and we expect that to persist at least into the near term.
Modern, technological, innovative and a good suite of products.