Being one of the world’s oldest and largest auto companies, you might think that GM would know a thing or two about how to run a brand. But in recent years it seems that they seem to be more successful in running said brands into the ground; Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Daewoo are all ventures which have gone sour in the last decade or so. Another surprising addition was made to that list this week, at least in mainland Europe anyway, and it was announced that the Chevrolet brand would be discontinued as of 2015.
This was actually a surprise to me, but looking at the dire sales figures for the Chevy brand both in the UK and on the continental and it’s evident that they just did not warrant the huge investment that GM was continuing to make in terms of R&D, dealerships and marketing (including a high profile sponsorship of Manchester United). Plus there is the huge black cloud of Opel/Vauxhall which looms over GM Europe…an arm which continues to lose money but does churn out a long list of best sellers annually.
In the US and many other global markets Chevrolet is GM’s mass market brand and offers a massive range of vehicles at reasonable prices, but this market position brought them into direct conflict with Opel in the European market. Originally Chevrolet vehicles were little more than rebadged Daewoos, a change made to take the Chevrolet brand global whilst ridding any bad memories of the relatively shoddy Daewoos which were offered in the early 90’s. Unfortunately their original line up was full of those same shoddy models and buyers were understandably unimpressed with the results, although they still sold in solid numbers because of the bargain bucket prices. As GM decided to focus their efforts on creating a class-competitive range of small cars it understandly chose the Chevy brand as the standard bearer for these exciting new vehicles; the Cruze, Sonic and Spark have been pretty successful in their home market but their competence has been consistently overlooked in Europe because of those pre-existing budget brand traits.
Opel’s vehicles have also been taken global, but their higher R&D costs has meant that in the North American market they have been branded as Buicks, and as such are able to command a more upmarket image and price thanks to a reinvigorated product line-up. Cars like the Opel/Vauxhall Mokka and Insignia have been received surprisingly well and fit well positioned slightly above the more mainstream Chevy cars. However this has not been as easy to do in Europe, where models wearing the Opel (and especially Vauxhall) badge are often considered as rep-mobiles despite their many credentials. In an ideal world I am sure GM would have loved to continue to push Opel upmarket towards the position that Saab used to occupy and let Chevrolet take over as the mainstream badge, but given the extremely slow rate of progress it’s pretty clear to see why they acted now.
It’s a shame because Chevrolet have a pretty interesting and varied line-up here in the UK; the Spark and Sonic are distinctively styled inside and out and are probably better than Vauxhall’s offerings. The Cruze seems to have taken the gauntlet as an Octavia challenger and I see a fair few Orlando/Captiva out and about – both of which seem practical and nicely styled options. They may not have a big volume saloon anymore but the Camaro and Corvette give a little bit of sparkle to the line up, so it’s a shame that GM have pulled the plug.
However another factor in addition to Opel/Vauxhall could be the recent partnership between GM and PSA, meaning Peugeot and Citroen vehicles will soon be another internal competitor to GM’s European arm. With no ‘budget’ arm left post-Chevy, it seems possible that PSA’s cars may be pushed down in pecking order to give some competition to Hyundai/Kia whilst maintaining Opel’s premium aspirations. It is an interesting time in the European car market for sure so I guess it’ll be interesting to see where things go!