LONDON - Opel and Vauxhall are the heart of General Motors' sales in Europe, but the company slowly is introducing more of its North American nameplates.
Joe Switalski, director of GM Europe's North American vehicles, says the goal is to focus on two brands, Cadillac and Chevrolet, and sell the vehicles through dedicated Chevrolet-Cadillac dealerships.
GM began selling the redesigned Cadillac Seville STS in the Euro-pean market in April. On the Chevrolet side, the company sells trucks, the Camaro and Corvette.
Switalski says a lower-priced North American-made sedan will be added to the lineup next year. The numbers are still anemic, but with the Seville and the new sedan, Switalski expects sales in Europe almost to double next year from the 9,000 vehicles GM sold in Europe in 1997.
'We have a strategy of slow growth,' Switalski said. 'Opel is our main line. We'll complement Opel by bringing in higher-line makes.'
So far, 87 dealers in Europe have invested in the Cadillac-Chevrolet showrooms. Ten dealerships in the United Kingdom began selling Cadillacs last month.
Cadillac dealers in Europe sold 270 Sevilles in April, compared with 500 units for all of 1997. GM projects it will sell 13,650 North American-made cars in Europe this year, about 1,600 of them Cadillacs.
'I take it as an opportunity to have a franchise that will grow,' said Steve Long, owner of Frost's (Cars) Ltd. in Shoreham, England. 'Based on the success of the Chrysler Jeep Cherokee, I see some potential with American luxury vehicles.'
The Chevrolet Trans Sport minivan, sold as the Pontiac Trans Sport in the United States, is the biggest GM North American seller in Europe with annual sales of about 5,000 units. Switalski said the company sells the Pontiac version rather than the Chevrolet version because the Pontiac is sportier and better equipped.
Although the new sedan will carry a Chevrolet badge, it likely will come from a more upscale GM division like Pontiac or Oldsmobile.
'GM obviously is serious about Europe and Japan,' Switalski said. 'They're giving us the product and are interested in doing everything they can to help with our business.'
Switalski expects the Trans Sport to continue to be the sales leader for the next three to four years. But the company has high hopes for Cadillac.
'We think we can grow with Cadillac,' Switalski said. 'We're not planning on taking the German makes head-on. We're aiming at people who have had European luxury cars and are looking for a change.'