Andy Higgins, the new managing director of Chevrolet UK from 1 October, is full of enthusiasm for both the brand and football – handy as his appointment coincided with news of Chevrolet becoming Manchester United’s shirt sponsor starting with the 2014/2015 season.
Higgins is Manchester born and bred – and a ‘Man U’ fan – and was also, he told just-auto on the sidelines of the UK Cruze Station Wagon launch at the club’s Old Trafford stadium, involved very early with General Motors Daewoo Auto Technology (GM-DAT), the GM unit which took over from Daewoo and morphed recently into Chevrolet Korea which designs most of the new Chevrolets – and some Buicks, Opels, Vauxhalls and even Holdens.
Higgins first joined General Motors in 1991 and held management roles in Zurich, Frankfurt and Budapest, in both sales and aftersales roles. He’s also worked in dealer network development, finance and customer service.
He returned to the UK, having headed Chevrolet in central and eastern Europe for three years, and plans steady sales growth and brand development.
Hence the pending high-profile shirt sponsorship with Manchester United, for which Chevrolet is also currently ‘official car partner’, and the four-year agreement announced last July to be ‘official automotive partner’ with Liverpool Football Club. The partnership runs to the end of the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League and European campaigns, and includes visibility for the brand at Anfield, Liverpool’s home ground; editorial opportunities within the Club’s print and digital publications and fan sites; and player appearances for commercial opportunities.
Certainly, it was hard to miss the Chevrolet logos at Old Trafford – the gold bow tie designed, we were told, to look good on 3D TV games broadcasts – and there’s also a fleet of Orlando seven-seat VIP transporters.
Higgins knows his statistics. “Chevrolet’s the fourth biggest brand in the world, selling 4.77m cars in 2011. From January to August 2012, we sold 3.3m cars in 140 countries, 70% outside the US and up 4.5% year on year.”
He acknowledged that Chevy is still a relatively small player in Europe but has “big ambitions to grow”. Western and central Europe volume from January to September 2012 rose 2.3% year on year to 157,000 cars while the overall market was down 8%.
Look east at Russia, where some models are assembled locally, and the brand was up 21% year on year to 153,994 units at the end of September – second only to Lada, according to the Association of European Businesses.
Key to expanding Chevrolet in both Europe and the UK is widening the model choice to compete in more of the market – hence the 10 launches in the last 18 months or so.
For example, the Cruze was launched in 2009 as a sedan, which is fine in central and eastern Europe, and some southern countries, but hatchbacks are more popular here in the west. Now there’s a Cruze hatch and a wagon. And the little Trax small SUV is due early in 2013, opening up another segment. In 2009, Chevrolet competed in just 30% of the European market; it’ll soon be in about 70%.
Higgins aims to develop brand awareness in the UK and figures the football sponsorship will go a long way towards that.
“Why soccer? It invokes youth, energy, excitement and passion and reaches a global audience.”
Coverage of UK Premiership League matches reaches 643m homes and a global audience of 4.7bn people, better than the US Superbowl, according to Chevrolet, and Manchester United has 900m fans worldwide.
Higgins says Chevrolet is “customer focused” in the UK but there is still “lots of work to do” to improve the customer experience. The dealer network, at about 85, is about the right size but there will be adjustments as some outlets not up to standard are either improved (or terminated) and new appointments made.
Chevrolet sees the new Cruze SW as an important addition to the C class which accounts for about one in four sales in Europe and the wagon itself one in four of that.
It is targeted at families and fleet buyers and will be offered with a choice of LT or LTZ Nav trim and 1.6 petrol manual, 1.8 petrol automatic, the familiar two-litre diesel and a new 1.7-litre turbodiesel with CO2 emissions of just 119g/km and ‘offical’ fuel economy of up to 63mpg.