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By: Neil King

Following the announcement by General Motors (GM) in December 2013 that it is withdrawing the Chevrolet brand from Europe, I commented back in December that this creates space for an affordable GM brand in Europe. This possibility is further supported by the fact that GM is seeking to move the Opel/Vauxhall brands upmarket with models such as the Cascada convertible, which seeks to target open versions of premium cars such as the Audi A5 and BMW 3-Series (or 4-Series as it is now known with the launch of the latest iteration). It is therefore with much interest that I read about Opel’s plans for budget vehicles but still wonder about GM’s brand strategy in Europe.

Defining value vehicles is rather subjective but the brands that I consider to qualify have seen their sales in West Europe soar by 68% between 2004 and 2013 and even by 35% since the car market peaked in 2007. To put this into perspective, demand for mainstream cars was 24% lower in 2013 than in 2007 and even the premium brands registered 14% fewer cars. With the European demise of Chevrolet expected by the end of 2015, this does leave an opportunity for GM to offer new vehicles to compete in the value segment.

According to a Reuters news report on July 21, “Opel plans to build a range of entry-level cars to recapture the type of budget customer who in the past bought its Chevrolet brand.” Given the success of other value brands in Europe’s ultra-competitive car market, the case is certainly compelling but my concern is that introducing budget offerings under the Opel brand would negate its aspirations to move upmarket. Alternatively, Opel/Vauxhall should consider introducing an upmarket sub-brand as Citroen has done with its DS range and Ford and Renault plan with their respective Vignale and Initiale lines.

However, I still feel that a budget brand is warranted and this made me ponder options that are open to GM. Trawling through GM’s list of defunct brands, the Geo brand jumped out at me as a possibility but then I also recall the surprise at the demise of Opel’s long-standing Kadett nameplate that was used between 1937 and 1940 and again for its compact cars from 1962 until 1991 (when Opel’s C-segment offering assumed the Astra moniker already used by Vauxhall for its versions of the Kadett since 1979). There is surely still some equity in the Kadett name and, in my opinion, it has a nice ring to it for an entry-level range of cars, albeit somehow less so the brand Cadet as it would undoubtedly have to be known in the UK market.

 

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