GM's Peper brings competitive fire to fleet biz

DETROIT -- Zero to 60 in just under 16 seconds normally is nothing to brag about. Unless you're Ed Peper.

General Motors recently floated a press release touting a 15.58-second acceleration time for its Chevrolet Express 4500 van. The chest-thumping part: That was nearly two seconds faster than Ford's rival fleet van, the E-450, in a recent head-to-head test.

"We win in every single category," gushes Peper, who took over in January as general manager of GM's fleet and commercial operations.

Peper, 50, has long gotten a rush from Chevy-vs.-Ford clashes, only they used to be of the Camaro-vs.-Mustang or Silverado-vs.-F-150 variety. The 28-year GM lifer was head of Chevrolet from 2005 to 2009.

In that job, and more recently as Cadillac's general sales manager, Peper was best known among dealers for rallying the troops -- sometimes with monthly video sales reports that morphed into de facto motivational speeches.

Now, the ebullient Peper, a former captain of his basketball team at Michigan's Hillsdale College, is bringing that same competitive zeal to the fleet operation.

Former Chevrolet head Ed Peper, introducing Camaro concepts in Las Vegas back in 2008, now aims to bring some competitive zeal to GM's fleet operations. Photo credit: GM

Even though GM has a governor on its fleet sales -- it wants to keep them around a quarter of total sales -- Peper is putting rivals on notice.

"We're not letting up," he says. "We're going to be very aggressive going after the commercial and government business out there."

You'll notice he didn't mention daily rentals.

GM is dialing back sales to daily rental fleets, which for decades served as dumping grounds for the automaker's excess factory output and hurt residual values. Now, there's a sharper focus on big commercial buyers such as General Electric, which recently bought a slug of Chevrolet Volts.

Peper says the fleet business will grow this year, even as rental sales fall. In the first quarter, sales to commercial customers rose 25 percent.

"This is a big switch here at the company," Peper says. But, "Make no mistake. We know the fleet and commercial business is great for us … and for our competitors."

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