FRANKFURT -- General Motors executives say they're hatching a plan for how best to position the Chevrolet and Opel/Vauxhall brands in Europe; analysts say they overlap too much to coexist and grow together.
But there seems to be disagreement among top brass on the extent of the branding problem.
Thomas Sedran, a former corporate restructuring consultant who this summer replaced Susan Docherty as head of Chevrolet Europe, says there's minimal cross-shopping between Chevy and Opel, even though both are seen as mainstream value marques in Europe.
"We see very little interaction between these two brands," Sedran told reporters at the auto show here last week.
He said research shows that only 5 to 12 percent of Chevy buyers also considered Opel among their top three choices. The same low degree of cross-shopping applies to Opel buyers, Sedran said.
But Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann, hired early this year to execute a turnaround of GM's money-losing European subsidiary, says the Opel and Chevy product portfolios are too close for comfort. Opel has tried to move its brand upmarket in recent years.
"Chevrolet had a lot of budget product," Neumann told reporters in a separate meeting. "Chevrolet now has some product which is, in my opinion, too close with the Opel product."
Neumann points to the Chevy Trax, a small crossover launched in Europe this summer that is essentially a rebadged Opel Mokka or Buick Encore, with fewer advanced features. In Germany, the Trax is priced about $2,700 less than the Mokka. "The product we want to do in the future should differentiate stronger and more than these two," Neumann said.
Jump-starting Chevy's sales in Europe is a priority for GM CEO Dan Akerson, who is pressing for global expansion of the bow-tie brand, which accounts for more than half of GM's overall revenue. But GM can't let those sales come at the expense of Opel, which outsells Chevy in Europe by a margin of 6 to 1.
Akerson in June expressed disappointment with Chevy's European performance and said he is counting on Sedran for "a fresh approach." He said Sedran "understands the channel conflicts we've inevitably had between Opel and Chevrolet."
Chevy has struggled in Europe. Through July, its sales on the continent sank 24 percent, to 88,252 units, according to the latest figures available from JATO Dynamics. That's worse than the overall market, which fell 5 percent.
Opel, meanwhile, is showing signs of life amid brisk demand for the Mokka and Adam small car. Its market share this year held steady through July after declining in each of the last 15 years.