The “Heartbeat of America” is rapidly expanding its presence outside the U.S., two-thirds of Chevrolet sales expected to come from markets outside the U.S. this year.
With Chevy the only one of the five major global brands to increase its worldwide market share this year, it would not be a surprise, said a senior General Motors executive, if the bowtie marque were to eventually ring up four out of five of its sales in foreign markets.
“That’s absolutely possible…though not a target,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s president of North American operations, following a dinner celebrating Chevrolet’s 100th anniversary.
The brand was founded on November 3, 1911 by race car driver Louis Chevrolet and entrepreneur William C. Durant – who was at the time exiled from General Motors, a company he had also created less than a decade earlier.
In the post-War years, few brands were more closely associated with the booming U.S. suburbs, spokeswoman Dinah Shore telling Americans to “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” But the marque was also entrenching itself in Latin America where, today, it is one of the biggest regional brands, depending on national market.
In more recent years, Chevy has begun to roll out into other parts of the world, notably in both Europe – where it has become the market’s fastest-growing brand – and booming China. Initially, Chinese regulators encouraged GM to focus on the Buick brand. The U.S. maker also put its marketing muscle behind a local nameplate, Wuling. But Chevy is gaining ground fast, increasing Chinese sales six-fold in barely five years, noted Susan Docherty, marketing chief for GM International Operations.
In fact, she noted, Chevy outsold Wuling – which produces a widely popular microvan and other products – during 2010, 1.186 million compared to 1.149 million for the domestic Chinese nameplate. It has gained even more ground this year, first half sales for Chevy totaling 664,000 in China compared with 604,000 for Wuling.
Now available in more than 120 countries, Chevrolet sales totaled 2.35 million worldwide during the first six months of the year, an all-time record for the brand, all the more significant considering the bankruptcy of parent GM just two years ago.
Barring a sudden shift, Chevy should continue to increase the pace of its global expansion, which is on target to reach 65% of its sales coming from abroad for all of 2011. But Reuss said it is possible that the U.S. market could expand its stake somewhat over the next several years.
That’s because Chevrolet is launching a series of new small models “where we’ve never had cars before” in the U.S. – notably the compact Sonic launching in 2012, and the even smaller Spark, which follows a year later.
GM is also trying to position Chevy as a leader in the green car space, a segment it largely conceded to arch-rival Toyota until recently. The U.S. maker launched its Chevrolet Volt late last year and though sales are still measured in the 100s per month, Reuss insisted it is “exactly what we designed. We’re selling everything we’re making.”
Next year, U.S. Chevrolet dealers will also begin selling GM’s first diesel-powered passenger car in more than two decades, a version of the compact Cruze that is reportedly going to get as much as 50 miles per gallon on the highway.
“We’ll see how it does,” and consider options to add even more diesel models to Chevy’s U.S. line-up, Reuss told TheDetroitBureau.com.
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