DETROIT — Duncan Aldred is getting a crash course in U.S. geography.
Before moving to Detroit in January for his new job as head of Buick-GMC, the Briton and former Vauxhall executive’s U.S. travel log was nearly blank. He had visited only New York City and General Motors’ headquarters here.
Lately Aldred has been visiting Buick-GMC dealers in Mississippi, Texas, New York and elsewhere. He’s hearing them riff about Buick’s latest ad campaign and gripe about why the factory can’t get them more GMC Yukon Denalis.
“As I was meeting these dealers I thought, ‘This is great. I wanted to be part of the society here, part of the culture,’” Aldred said in an interview last month. He feels at home in the “grittiness” of Detroit, which reminds him of his native northwest England.
But Aldred doesn’t need anyone to point out on a map where to take the two brands, which account for nearly a quarter of GM’s U.S. sales.
On shaking Buick’s old-folks image: “We need to take it by the scruff of the neck and just tell people that it’s not what they think it is,” Aldred said.
On how to take resurgent GMC to the next level: “I think we can push this brand and the Denali line even higher. I see its future as really exciting in an Audi-esque kind of way.”
The lanky 43-year-old has been given the chance to think big. Aldred oversees both sales and marketing for Buick-GMC, the first time since 2009 that those roles are combined under one brand chief.
GM North America President Alan Batey made changes at Buick-GMC and Chevrolet after he took the job in January, as a way to clarify reporting lines and create accountability. Former Buick-GMC sales chief Brian Sweeney moved to Chevy at the same time, where he also oversees both sales and marketing.
As Vauxhall managing director from 2010 to 2013, Aldred helped to reverse years of sliding retail market share. The brand’s overall United Kingdom market share dipped to 11.4 percent last year, from 12.2 percent in 2010, according to IHS Automotive, as he de-emphasized less profitable sales to rental companies.
Aldred is “happy to push boundaries” to achieve aggressive sales goals, says Jon Taylor, owner of seven Vauxhall dealerships in the London area.
As car sales were tanking amid Europe’s worsening recession around 2011, Aldred rolled out two marketing plays to spark sales. One was 0 percent financing for 60 months with no money down on any model, a rare offer in the United Kingdom at the time, Taylor says. The other was a warranty of 10 years/100,000 miles.