MIKE COLIAS

Tough questions for Chevy Europe's new chief

Automotive News | September 6, 2013 - 3:30 pm EST

At next week's Frankfurt auto show, Chevrolet will show the convertible version of the refreshed 2014 Camaro. But Chevy execs at the show likely will field fewer questions about the topless muscle car than they will about the brand's sales rut in Europe.

Through July this year, Chevy's sales in Europe sank 24 percent, to 88,252 units, according to the latest figures available from JATO Dynamics. That's a whole lot worse than the overall market, which is still bad, down 5 percent.

Thomas Sedran, who took over as president of Chevrolet Europe in July, will be the man who gets to answer those questions. He ought to be used to it.

Sedran, 48, is the turnaround specialist whom GM leaned on to restructure its money-losing Opel operations. Just as Opel shows signs of life -- the new Mokka crossover and Adam small car are hot and the brand has stopped bleeding market share -- Sedran leaps from the frying pan into the fire at Chevy.

Sedran: Leaping from the Opel frying pan into the fire at Chevy Europe.

The central question Sedran must answer is one of the toughest facing GM today: How can Chevy and Opel, two mainstream brands, co-exist and grow together in Europe?

Chevy marketing chief Tim Mahoney points to Volkswagen's multi-brand existence in Europe -- VW, Seat and Skoda -- as a sign that it can be done.

"The key is understanding the DNA of the brand and positioning it and building a personality," Mahoney said this week in an interview. He thinks Chevy needs to "let a bit of the Chevrolet-ness bleed into the market" to stand out from Opel there.

There are a few reasons why Chevy's sales numbers look so bad relative to the rest of the European market. It sells a higher percentage of retail than fleet there, so rock-bottom consumer confidence has had a magnified effect. And Chevy hasn't discounted as deeply as most competitors, a spokesman says.

But those short-term factors are less important than a long-term strategy to carve clear paths for Chevy and Opel in Europe.

Mike Colias covers General Motors for Automotive News.Mike Colias covers General Motors for Automotive News.

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