Chevrolet’s Tim Mahoney Sees Big Year Ahead for Bow-Tie Brand

Perhaps the best news for Chevrolet is having put its busiest launch year in the rearview mirror, and GM’s decision to give up marketing the brand in Europe.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

January 27, 2014

7 Min Read
Car Truck of the Year awards give Chevrolet added credibility global marketing chief Tim Mahoney says
Car, Truck of the Year awards give Chevrolet added credibility, global marketing chief Tim Mahoney says.

DETROIT – Chevrolet global marketing chief Tim Mahoney says 2014 will see the largest brand at General Motors make a growth push, backed by 25 global product launches in 2013 and heightened credibility after sweeping the recent North American Car and Truck of the Year awards.

“This will be the year we make the move and continue to grow,” Mahoney tells WardsAuto in a recent interview here.

Chevrolet’s U.S. sales rose 5.6% last year to 1.95 million units from 1.85 million in 2012, according to WardsAuto data. However, the industry grew at a more brisk pace of 7.5% and the bowtie brand’s market share fell to 12.5% of light-vehicle sales from 12.8% year-ago. Chevrolet in 2013 maintained the No.2 spot in brand sales behind Ford and just ahead of Toyota.

Globally, Chevrolet sales reached a record 4.98 million units.

“Chevrolet is in the best shape globally that it has ever been,” says Sam Fiorani, an analyst with AutoForecast Solutions in Chester Springs, PA.

Mahoney promises another year-over-year sales gain for Chevrolet in the U.S. as the brand capitalizes on the 13 new-product launches it conducted in 2013, a blitz that included a late-year kickoff of the redesigned ’14 Silverado large pickup.

Sales of the Silverado, easily the brand’s most important product from a volume and profitability standpoint, rose 14.8% to 480,414 units from 418,312 in like-2012. But the redesigned model has faced intense pricing competition from rivals that GM refuses to match. A complete mix of body styles and engine choices was not available until the end of the year.

Those two factors combined to pinch sales results, especially in December when the new trucks did not post a year-over-year gain.

“We’ve made a great truck and we’ll keep at it,” says Mark Reuss, former GM North America president and newly installed executive vice president- global product development and supply chain.

“We’re not going to respond to monthly incentives and temporary monthly sales tactics,” Reuss tells WardsAuto.

Although U.S. sales typically kick off the new year with tepid numbers, January’s results should reveal if the Silverado can rebound against the Ford F-150.

Mahoney likes its chances, especially with the North American Truck of the Year award in its marketing message. He says the Corvette winning Car of the Year at the show will help, too, because it is the halo vehicle for the entire brand.

“In all of our communications, these two awards will be tagged, and we’ll push that out and really take advantage of it,” he says. “It is the sort of third-party endorsement that the vehicles are really special.

“Those are the two most recognizable vehicles in our portfolio,” he adds, saying the excitement will “wash over the rest of the brand.”

Mahoney, who joined GM from Volkswagen of America last year, says the brand also will gather momentum in 2014 from recently launched products such as the Impala large sedan, Malibu midsize sedan and Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel small sedan.

The Impala shifted from primarily a fleet-sales product to a retail-oriented one with a ’14 redesign. Sales last year wilted 7.4% to 156,797 from 169,351, reflecting its new role in retail. It’s also wining new customers to Chevrolet, Mahoney notes.

“It is a more sophisticated, affluent and engaged buyer than we’ve had in the past,” he says.

The ’14 Malibu received interior and exterior design tweaks, as well as a new fuel-saving stop-start powertrain, for ’14 to bolster its disappointing sales results. And while the Cruze diesel will account for only about 10% of the nameplate’s sales, the engine technology gives Chevrolet another shot at customers it has not appealed to previously.

Chevrolet this year brings to market its important new large SUVs, the ’15 Tahoe and extended-wheelbase Suburban. The two models combined for sales of 134,762 units last year, up 15.2% from 117,020 in 2012.

It would be logical to expect another sales uptick this year, given its loyal customer base has been waiting for redesigned models since late 2005.

Chevrolet also will introduce in the U.S. next year the ’15 Colorado small pickup, an all-new, lifestyle-oriented truck targeting buyers who want the utility of a cargo bed but in a smaller package than the Silverado.

The ’15 Silverado Heavy Duty comes next year, too, as the brawniest light-duty Chevy pickup, while the ’15 Camaro Z28 and Corvette Z06 arrive as range-toppers for those model lines.

The ’15 model year additionally sees Chevrolet launch its AppShop technology, which GM boasts of as a new level of infotainment personalization.

The AppShop, which works through the MyLink infotainment touchscreen, allows owners to access available music, news, weather, travel and vehicle information applications and then download, organize, update or delete them. The technology is underpinned by the launch of high-speed 4G LTE wireless Internet for a number of products at Chevrolet and other GM brands.

“There are a lot of pieces of news coming together that allow us to tell a bigger story about Find New Roads and invite people to come back to Chevrolet,” Mahoney says.

Launched one year ago, the Find New Roads communications platform serves as Chevrolet’s key global marketing message.

“It’s not just a tagline, it’s a little bit of a philosophy of how we bring vehicles to market, and the really encouraging thing is its acceptance all over the world,” Mahoney says.

Find New Roads helped Chevrolet last year break into global consultant Interbrand’s list of the top 100 global brands. The marque occupied the 89th position with a global brand value of $4.6 billion.

“That is a validation that we are building a global brand,” Mahoney says.

However, 11 other automotive brands ranked ahead of Chevrolet, including Toyota at 10, Ford at 42 and Hyundai at 43.

Elsewhere in the world, Chevrolet looks to broaden acceptance of its important Sail lineup of small cars, which in China sold 213,075 units. Overall, Chevrolet sales in China through November increased 8.5% to 562,077. Chevrolet was on track to be the country’s 11th best-selling brand.

“We intend to grow there, working closely with our partners, and we see a lot of upside potential,” Mahoney says.

The Sail, due for a redesign soon, was the second best-selling car in the country behind the Cruze C-car, and it will be a pivotal product in GM’s expansion plans for Chevrolet in India.

In Brazil, Chevrolet’s third-largest market behind the U.S. and China, the brand sold 603,019 units, up 1.5%, according to WardsAuto data. Chevrolet market share increased to 16.9% of the light-vehicle market from 16.4%, but it was not enough to push it past Volkswagen and Fiat for market leadership.

“A highly competitive market. The brand has good health down there,” Mahoney says, adding he expects lackluster industry sales in the country to catch momentum from the FIFA World Cup this year and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Onix B-car, launched in 2012, and Tracker small SUV introduced last year and winner of Brazil’s truck of the year award, are key products.

Chevrolet sales in Russia, another key growth market, fell 14.8% to 174,649 units, and the brand slipped from the No.2 seller to fifth place. Market share tumbled to 6.3% from 7.0% in 2012. Industry sales in the region, however, were off 5.4% to 2.8 million units.

“Russia is a top five market for us, so there is a lot of growth potential,” Mahoney says. “It does represent a strong foothold for us.”

The Niva small SUV, built in the country with GM partner AvtoVAZ, is the best-selling Chevy in Russia and last year saw the 500,000th unit roll off the assembly line in Togliotti. A next-generation redesign for that vehicle should come in the next 12 months.

Perhaps the best news for Chevrolet this year is it has put its busiest launch year in the rearview mirror, and GM has decided to give up marketing the brand in Western Europe, says Fiorani of AutoForecast Solutions.

“Vehicle launches take time and money, and now they can concentrate on marketing them,” he says. “And giving up on Europe allows them to focus their efforts elsewhere in the world.”

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