DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- Mustafa Yildirim from the Bavarian city of Fuerth overcame his concerns about bulky, gas-guzzling SUVs after he came upon the Opel Mokka.
"It was love at first sight," said Yildirim, a 45-year- old caterer. "The Mokka has a beautiful exterior design. It's not as big as the BMW X5 or Audi Q5, and thus optimal for the city."
The small SUV, sold in Europe as an Opel and in China and the United States as the Buick Encore, represents what General Motors CEO Dan Akerson is pushing GM to do more of with the two brands.
By working together, they can hold down costs and carve out a profitable niche between upscale Cadillac and mass-market Chevrolet, the company's global brands.
GM Europe, consisting mostly of Opel and sister brand Vauxhall, has lost more than $18 billion in Europe since 1999 and continues to be a drag on the automaker's bottom line.
After the GM board chose not to sell Opel in 2009, Akerson, a Navy veteran, is positioning it and Buick as what he calls "flanker brands" serving regional tastes.
"This Buick-Opel guiding principle of similar if not identical vehicles is the right thing to do," Jim Federico, a GM executive director in product development, said last month in an interview. "It makes it extremely clear for brand identity for Chevrolet and Cadillac and these can fit nicely in the middle."
Opel and Buick can help Akerson reach several ambitious goals for mid-decade: stem losses in Europe, boost North American profit margins and increase China sales.
GM's European operations are being revamped, including cutting costs, closing an assembly plant and introducing new models, such as the Mokka.
GM has tried to leverage Opel and Buick before.
The Buick Regal compact sedan, for example, is sold as the Opel Insignia in Europe, where it won Car of the Year in 2009.
The Mokka and Encore, which went on sale in January in the United States, are almost 90 percent the same, sharing more components than the Regal and Insignia, said Federico, who has served as the executive chief engineer on GM's small vehicles.
"What we're trying to do is bring together the product development team much more closely," Akerson said in June. "It'll be all sorts of synergies, I believe, between Opel-Vauxhall and Buick," giving GM more scale and cost savings.