U.S. carmakers have never been particularly good at targeting emerging markets. And other than some success in China, attempts over the years to sell iconic American iron outside the U.S. -- Corvettes, Cadillacs, Chrysler minivans, etc. -- never gained traction, either in mature markets or in developing countries.
But the world is changing.
Yes, these are complicated times for U.S. companies trying to sort out strategies in unpredictable emerging markets. As buyer preferences shift in countries such as India and Thailand, coming up with the right products is trickier than ever. In India, General Motors has tabled a plan to launch 10 new vehicles and establish an export hub for emerging markets. GM was set to introduce models based on its Global Emerging Market platform, which is designed for entry-level compacts.
Ford recently shelved its compact-car strategy for China, India, Brazil, Russia and Thailand, according to reports. The B500 platform was meant to underpin a premium sedan and hatchback, but customers in emerging markets are rejecting sedans and hatchbacks in favor of compact crossovers.
But in recent years GM and Ford have helped the subcompact-crossover category blossom overseas. Opel's Mokka and Ford's EcoSport followed close behind Nissan, with the Juke, and the French in a category now taking off in the U.S. GM nailed it in developed markets whereas Ford, with the cheaper-to-build EcoSport, fared better in developing countries. They were both way ahead of Hyundai, Toyota, Kia and plenty of others.
Meanwhile, new opportunities have arisen for U.S. automakers as the world falls in love with crossovers and SUVs and turns away from sedans -- as has happened here. So while Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler rethink small-car strategies in developing markets, they are enjoying success with models that are manifestly American.
Jeep, on its global march, has created a stir in India by introducing the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler and aiming them at upscale buyers. Also, FCA plans to start building smaller Jeeps in the country by next year, sell them there and export them to other right-hand-drive markets.
Cadillac said its sales worldwide have jumped more than 20 percent in the past two months, due largely to the introduction of the XT5 crossover. And another distinctly American product is finding a large, welcoming audience around the world -- Ford's Mustang, which is no crossover.
Even as sedans slip in popularity nearly everywhere, the Mustang is proving that a strong U.S. nameplate can make it almost anywhere.
There is more to the muscle car's newfound foreign success than serendipity. Ford's global Mustang offensive, like FCA's worldwide Jeep expansion, bears little resemblance to U.S. automakers' past attempts to add a few incremental overseas sales with vehicles aimed primarily at Americans.
Both the Jeep and Mustang efforts are well-conceived global strategies, not afterthoughts. They suggest a way forward for the Detroit 3 at a time when the home market is plateauing.