July 15, 2012: Timothy E Lee, Vice-president & Head - International operations, General Motors
GM's vice-president and head, international operations, speaks to Hormazd Sorabjee on the company's new product portfolio and how it will help the Chevrolet brand get a much-needed boost in the Indian market.
India’s proving to be a tough market now but you seem to have a lot of products lined up. What’s the way forward for GM in this market?
We have a product portfolio that is adequate for the short term. So we are going to persevere, weather the current ups and downs in the market, and move forward with what we plan to introduce. This is a big year for Chevrolet in India. We have upgraded the Cruze powertrain, we have got a new Captiva and products from our joint venture with SAIC which include a saloon, a hatch and an MPV that will debut in the second half of 2012.
Is your strategy to focus basically on SAIC products because you’ve got vehicles from GM Korea (like the new Aveo) that you appear to have shelved?
We have not shelved any products. We have a three-fold approach. Firstly, we have our global architectures that we execute and deliver globally. Secondly, we have partner products such as those with SAIC and finally, we have local products like the Tavera, a great value-for-money product.
Chevrolet sales just haven’t picked up. What’s going on?
Personally, I am not satisfied with our sales performance here. We have a good product portfolio and are an emerging brand. In terms of overall customer experience, sales and service satisfaction, we are doing as well as we do anywhere in the world. So the essence of brand Chevrolet will soon catch on, especially since this will be a brand with many more products in its fold. Our commitment to India has been spotty so far but that’s history now.
You have a diesel only at the bottom end (Beat) and top end (Cruze, Captiva) of your range? Are you missing out on the diesel boom?
We wouldn’t want to lose out on an opportunity in a country where we have built a flexible engine plant that can build diesel and petrol engines. When we roll out our new products, you will see a commitment to both diesel and to petrol with products that are spot-on for each segment. When we launch a new vehicle, it will come with both powertrains.
Is Chevrolet now the mother brand or would you look at other brands such as Opel which, perhaps, could be brought back?
This is the simplest question that you've asked me. Our focus is on Chevrolet, nothing else.
You will be launching the Sail in a very competitive market with established players. What is your strategy to get market share?
We will price our products confidently. We are not going to go out and buy market share. The essence of the brand is practical and spirited in performance and that is how we will approach the market and not give up one sale to anyone without a fight.
The Spark is a legacy product that you have had for a while but what’s your strategy? Will we see more refreshes?
Our plan is to have a good blend of both legacy and new products and so the Spark, its profile and its base engineering works for us. We will continue with the nameplate and you can expect to see nice things with the product.
Will you leverage your development centre at Bangalore a lot more for legacy products?
We have expanded our capabilities in the design area and have used our strengths in powertrain engineering here in our more recent powertrain introduction. We can go faster now and be sure that when we work on legacy architecture like that of the Spark, our Bangalore centre will play a significant role.
You have not fully utilised capacity at Talegaon and now have an alliance with Peugeot. Would you look at sharing capacity here as a logical extension of what you are doing in Europe?
I have said this before and say it again now that there are no plans to build Peugeots and Citroëns at our Talegaon or Halol facilities. Our focus with Peugeot and Citroën is about sharing architectures and presumably, doing some purchase work as well, and that too, predominantly in Europe. We have operational issues in Europe and it is our intention to fix those. Based on our current product plan for Chevrolet and its allocation between Talegaon and Halol, I think we’re going to run full with no slots available for Peugeot.
If there is one important lesson the Indian market has taught you, what would it be?
I think that we have recognised that the customer base in this country is very discerning and whether it is powertrain selection or bodystyle, the customer knows what he or she wants. Our intent is to listen and to serve this discerning customer.
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