Timothy Lee is the President of GM International Operations and is the epitome of clarity of thought. He has crafted a business strategy for each country and he uses the three letter word often – win. But there is a slight problem that he is facing with – the Indian automotive market. ‘There is extraordinary competition in India and we have to really dig deep to win there’, he says.
“GM along with SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation which owns 50 per cent of GM India) and Wuling (part of another three way joint venture involving GM, SAIC and Wuling Automobiles) are going to get aggressive in India and we will go for the win”, he adds with an emphasis on the three letter word again. But under which badge will this success come from? That question stumps Lee though.
GM, which is recovering globally, largely thanks to the 10-year old joint venture in China, says the India Strategy is simple – Wuling makes the largest selling vehicle in China – a monobox minivan under the brand name Sunshine (in around three variants and 6,50,000 units) and GM India is planning to launch it in India.
The cut-price people mover (Rs 4-6 lakh depending on trim is the estimate) will wade into the Toyota Innova and Mahindra Xylo segment and will attract buyers in the B Plus segment who will like the space on offer. GM India will also change the drinking habits of the Sunshine by using a 1.3 litre diesel engine that is reliable, refined and economical instead of the small capacity petrol engines doing duty in the Chinese market.
But these are not vehicles that win at beauty pageants – they are straightforward vans that are used to move goods and people depending on the trim. Not exactly the kind of vehicle that can carry the same Chevrolet bow-tie that is worn by the illustrious Corvette, right? Yes and no and decision is pending on this front within the corridors of GM India and GM International Operations.
“If and when we are bringing in passenger cars to India, they will be under the Chevrolet brand, while we are still studying the market when it comes to the light commercial vehicles”, says Matt Tsien, vice president, SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobiles Co. Ltd.
The Chevrolet brand, so, will be used for future models such as the Buick Sail – fully designed and developed in China at the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Centre (PATAC) if and when it is introduced in India. Chevrolet is an effervescent brand that way – it can straddle the extremes of supercars (Corvette) to sub-compacts (Spark) and everything in between and still people don’t seem to mind. Why not Chinese LCV’s then?
There is a school of thought within GM India and GM China that perhaps the Tavera sub-brand can be developed to adorn the LCVs and people movers from China. The Chevrolet Tavera today stands for rugged, reliable and comfortable transportation solution and can easy bring an air of familiarity to the unknown quantity that the Chinese products are. However GM executives refused to dwell deep on to the subject of re-branding. In China, these vehicles are still sold under the Wuling brand and that too alongside a Chinese built Cadillac SLS and various Buicks.
GM returned to the Indian market 15 years ago with the very European Opel brand and straightaway became the aspirational brand in India with the Opel Astra. But the cars were expensive and GM decided to introduce a more tangible brand in the form of Chevrolet (this was initially achieved by badge-engineering a Subaru SUV for India). Then came the flurry of models developed by GM-DAT (Daewoo Automotive Technologies) and Chevrolet soon became a household name in India. Recently the Spark and Beat sub-compacts have done exceptionally well under the Chevrolet brand name with double digit growth. With two plants and an installed capacity for over 3,00,000 vehicles as of now and grand plans being made for the Chinese products GM India is on a roll but its most iconic brand may have just become selective for the right reasons.