General Motors is the latest manufacturer to review its European dealer operations in the light of changes to the block exemption rules. While the decision to allow multi-franchising among its dealers isn’t as radical as moves by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, the impact on individual brands could be significant. GM’s rivals will be watching closely.

General Motors Europe, the car manufacturer that operates the Opel/Vauxhall, Saab and Daewoo brands, will begin to encourage its franchised dealers to market and sell its three brands from a single site, in a departure from traditional new car retailing. The move is a pre-emptive response to impending changes in the industry’s block exemption on competition laws.

The changes mean that franchise dealers could be allowed to retail more than one marque of car from a single site, something that vehicle manufacturers had previously managed to prevent in order to maintain brand identity. GM is wisely trying to encourage those dealers wanting multi-franchise sites to add other GM brands to its stable, rather than offering direct rivals.

The move isn’t quite as bold as the likes of Mercedes-Benz, which has completely restructured its UK dealer network, but will nonetheless be of interest to GM’s rivals: Ford could take a similar route with its stable of marques – Ford, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin; likewise Volkswagen, which could house Skoda, Seat and Audi along with its main brand.

Should its dealers take this route, the biggest risk for GM is likely to be for the Saab brand.  Already loss making, Saab is positioned as an alternative to the teutonic allure of BMW and Audi, both of which it trails. Being sold under the same roof as Daewoo is unlikely to add sparkle to its appeal.

It would also allow consumers to make direct comparisons between cars that share components – although more expensive, the Saab 9-3 is, after all, based on the Vauxhall Vectra, a characteristic to which GM might not want to draw attention.

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