|Paul McVeigh is Managing Editor at Automotive News Europe.|
General Motors CEO Dan Akerson says GM needs a fresh perspective for the Chevrolet brand in Europe. Most observers' reaction will be: "It's about time."
Chevy and sister brand Opel have significant product overlaps in Europe despite assertions by GM executives that Opel's rivals are Ford and Volkswagen while Chevrolet competes with Japanese and Korean brands.
The Chevy Trax and the Opel Mokka subcompact SUVs are the latest examples of the overlap. Chevy says there are enough visible and invisible content differences to set the siblings apart. But the vehicles share the same engines and transmissions, not just the same underpinnings. In Germany, the Trax costs about 2,000 euros less than the Mokka.
Akerson told reporters on Wednesday that Opel strategy chief Thomas Sedran, who has been appointed Chevy's new European boss, is the right person to reassess how Chevy and Opel fit together in terms of price, vehicle content and where the brands are sold. "He understands the channel conflicts we've inevitably had between Opel and Chevrolet," Akerson said of Sedran.
Opel managers will worry that GM appears to be preparing to give Chevy a stronger identity and equal standing with their brand in Europe.
Opel cars currently have more advanced electronic technology and better interiors than similar Chevy models. But Chevy is eroding the gap by offering technology such as its MyLink telematics/infotainment system as standard on the Trax's upper trim levels.
GM has also said it doesn't want Chevy to be viewed as an entry-level brand, an image it has had in Europe since 2005 when GM stopped selling its cheap Korean-built cars as Daewoos. In the hope that a bow tie on the grille would add instant brand heritage, Daewoos were rebadged as Chevrolets.
The name change hasn't made a big difference. Chevy's EU market share is currently 1.1 percent, down from 1.5 percent a year ago. European buyers are not rushing into showrooms to buy the brand's aging, relatively inefficient vehicles. Opel has kept its share steady at 6.8 percent in the slumping region, helped by new products such as the Mokka and Adam minicar.
Hyundai and Kia have been successful by improving the design of their cars and upgrading perceived quality. Renault, on the other hand, has a big hit with its no-frills Dacia brand.
It will be interesting to see which way Akerson and Sedran steer Chevy in Europe.