Susan Docherty succeeded Wayne Brannon as head of Cadillac and Chevrolet Europe on 1 January 2012

Susan Docherty succeeded Wayne Brannon as head of Cadillac and Chevrolet Europe on 1 January 2012

Despite the downturn in many parts of Europe, Chevrolet sales are up. Susan Docherty, who heads up both Chevrolet and Cadillac in the region, talks through her strategy for success with just-auto's Glenn Brooks.

j-a: The industry is down 8% in the first eight months. How is Chevrolet doing?

SD: The Chevrolet business is up 5% and that's primarily driven by 10 new product launches in the last 18 months. The 10th product is the Trax [Chevrolet Europe's version of the Buick Encore/Opel/Vauxhall Mokka].

j-a: What predictions do you have for Europe heading into 2013?

SD: 2013 will continue to see a slowdown, and we believe the industry will be below 15m (sales in western, central and eastern Europe). But one of the segments that will do well is the SUV-B segment where the Nissan Juke is now and where the Trax will soon be competing. That segment is forecast to grow by 15% per annum for the foreseeable future.

The other thing we're seeing is growth in the A-segment where we have Spark which has just been updated (the mid-life facelift was new for the European region at the Paris show). That one model represents 25% of our business.

I've seen this trend in other parts of the world: people gravitate towards smaller cars when times are tough. I also saw this in the United States when the market went from 17m to 10m.

We now have another new product and that's the Cruze wagon. Cruze is our number one selling nameplate around the globe. Here in Europe we have three flavours of the Cruze: the notchback, the hatchback and now the wagon. So we have lots of new products. I also tell my team don't keep reading the same stories in the newspapers, don't watch CNN: there's 15m consumers buying a new car and I want us to have our fair share of those sales.

j-a: How big a share of that 15m can Chevrolet realistically expect to have?

SD: We currently have 1.4% market share; we're a small player with big ambitions. We've proven by being up this year that it all begins with great product.

j-a: When I interviewed you at the Geneva show earlier this year, I asked you what your goals for the brand were. What are they now?

SD: We need to play our part in getting Chevrolet into the top three brands globally. The top four are Toyota, VW, Ford and us. I don't care which country you are, for Chevrolet, the goal is growth. Not a specific market share goal, but sales.

j-a: That's quite a challenge.

SD: It is. My biggest problem in Europe is brand awareness. People say they know Corvette from the movies or when they go on vacation. My job is that they get to know Spark, Cruze, Aveo, Orlando and other products.

j-a: Does research show any negative traits for the brand?

SD: People like American brands, they like brands like Apple, Dell, McDonalds but Europeans don't always have a lot of respect for our politics (Docherty has a Canadian accent but holds dual passports)  - that's what I hear in focus groups.

j-a: So what makes a European customer buy a Chevy?

SD: First styling, that's what attracts someone, and then they see the value for money - Chevrolets are all great looking cars, with strong and coherent styling across our model range, and we put a lot of standard equipment into our models.

j-a: How are you doing with Malibu? That's a tough segment at the moment.

SD: Just getting started. We're just now getting the diesel onshore which I think will do better than the [petro] version. But we've got to win in A, B, and C (segments) and Car D is icing on the cake for us. It's nice to have the Malibu but I don't see it giving us any huge volume wins here in Europe.

j-a: I also want to ask you about Cadillac. Why is GM persisting with this brand in Europe when sales are so small?

SD: When I was last in Europe (1997-1998), prior to my current role, I was responsible for Cadillac. The reason we were not successful then was that we did not have the right product portfolio. Unless you can be competent and confident on the autobahn, you're not going to win.

I make no excuses for where we're at with Cadillac. Until we can get to where we want to be - competing with BMW and Mercedes in Europe - we'll continue with what I'm referring to as our bridge strategy. That begins with the ATS. That car is a true BMW 3 Series fighter in size.

The CTS was always too big; almost like it was our 4 Series, too long for the D segment but on interior not as roomy as a 5 Series. With the CTS sedan, CTS wagon and CTS Coupe, we've got the correct bodystyles but what I haven't got right is a low-displacement diesel and a low CO2 number. So it's not like we don't know what we need to do, we just need to go and get at it.

j-a: How long will it take to have Cadillac to where you want it to be?

SD: Coming out of bankruptcy, our first priority was to get Chevrolet exactly to where we wanted it. Our next job is to get the product portfolio right with Cadillac. I'm still three to four years away from an appropriate diesel powertrain.

j-a: That means four cylinders.

SD: Yes. To make Cadillac a credible and global luxury brand you have to compete in the heartland, where luxury started. That's Europe. Not just the United States or China but Europe. End of story.