INTERVIEW: Alan Batey, General Motors' VP of US Sales and Service, and Chief Marketing Officer
Batey has notched up over 33 years working for General Motors, mostly in markets outside the US
Alan Batey, GM's head of Global Marketing, as well as US market Sales and Service, made a brief visit to his native UK earlier this week. Glenn Brooks caught up with him at a Chevrolet-sponsored event in Manchester.
j-a: What does the new tagline 'Find New Roads' mean for Chevrolet?
AB: It's the perfect time for the new tagline, with the new C7 Corvette launched at the Detroit show. But it's not just a tagline, it's going to be used globally - we are the fastest growing big-box brand in the world and that growth is coming from a decentralised approach: ten years ago we were selling in about 70 markets; today, it's about 130 markets. So now it's time to bring those markets together with a single, uniting theme.
Find New Roads is really a culture change for the company. We want to build around the idea of ingenuity. We believe that cars like the Volt demonstrate that ingenuity, and just as importantly, the tagline is a rallying call for us (GM) to do things differently. So it's as much an internal launch as it is external.
j-a: We saw the 2014 Silverado presented to the media late last year and for the US market, that's obviously the biggest new model for calendar 2013. What other products will we see launched this year?
AB: We've got 13 new products in 2013 for the US and the centre of that is clearly the new pick-ups (Silverado, plus its GMC Sierra twin). GM has always been very strong with truck sales and it's been seven years since we've had an all-new truck, so it's a big moment.
Housing starts are starting to recover, the car parc now is [on average] about ten years old, so there's a lot of pent-up demand – it's the perfect time to be launching the new truck.
j-a: What's your sales expectation for the 2014 Silverado in its first year?
AB: We don't give any sales guidance. Simply for competitive reasons.
j-a: One other new Chevrolet for this year is the 2014 Corvette Stingray. You're launching that car in the third quarter, is that right?
AB: We are. It's another all-new model. It's a gorgeous vehicle, and there's going to be a lot of demand for the car. We're all very excited about it.
j-a: A small Chevy SUV is being rolled out globally this year, the Trax. GM has said it will be sold in Korea, Europe, Mexico and Canada. Why not in the US?
AB: In the US, we have the Equinox, which is slightly bigger and which we know hits a sweetspot in the market. In fact, in December, that vehicle had a record month and it's over three years old now. So we need to make sure we don't proliferate our range unless there's really good reason to do it - different nameplates cost a lot of money to market and position.
j-a: Buick has the Encore, which is more or less the same model as the Trax. So is it the case that divisions can no longer compete with one another with similar products in the US market?
AB: Well, Buick is obviously differentiated from Chevrolet by being in the luxury market. And there are times when we have vehicles that are similar in size but we look at everything in terms of what the customer wants. We think Trax is going to do really well in Europe and some of the other markets you mentioned but in the US, we know the Equinox is the right product for Chevrolet and that's why we decided against introducing the Trax as well.
j-a: You're still going to keep expanding Chevrolet's US product range, though. GM Holden has an export programme to the US for the Chevrolet SS, a variant of its next Commodore sedan due to start later this year. What's the latest news on that car?
AB: I can't tell you too much right now but I can say that it's our vehicle for NASCAR so the car will get a lot of exposure. It's a model that is really going to appeal to enthusiasts. There's a lot of passion for rear-wheel drive.
j-a: How will you position it in the Chevrolet model range? Australia is an expensive place to build cars so surely you'll have to give the SS a premium price in the US.
AB: It's going to be very much a performance vehicle. We're talking small volume and a car aimed at the enthusiast driver.
j-a: But can you make money from the SS?
AB: In small volumes. This isn't a mainstream model. And also we like the idea of racing - win on Sunday, sell on Monday - Chevrolet is a brand in the US that has got a lot of history and a lot of very passionate followers. So we really believe that this vehicle, in small volumes, will be really successful.
j-a: Away from the high performance end of the Chevrolet model range, how did the Volt do in 2012?
AB: Sales tripled in 2012 and it is the best selling plug-in car in America so it's done really, really well. Consumer Reports' readers rate it as their number one vehicle, so people love the car; it's got a really loyal following. So we're very happy with the Volt.
j-a: You've got another niche model arriving in US showrooms soon, the Spark EV. Will Chevrolet Europe get that car?
AB: As of now, there are no plans for European sales of that vehicle. The Spark EV is primarily for California.