Legendary GM CEO Alfred P. Sloan long ago came up with the formula for success in the automotive industry: a family of brands that could sell “a car for every purse and purpose.” Starting with Chevrolet, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac (in ascending order), Sloan oversaw the expansion of GM’s brand ladder to include such intermediate steps as Pontiac, Viking, Marquette and LaSalle. And though Sloan create a dizzying (and ultimately unsustainable) stable of brands, he never changed the top and bottom rungs of the ladder: Chevrolet was always the cheapest GM car available, and Cadillac was always the most expensive. But fast forward to 2010 and, though many of Sloan’s brands are long gone, the burgeoning Chinese market has given way to the unthinkable: a GM brand that slots in below Chevrolet
Baojun, a brand of cars developed by the SAIC-GM-Wuling partnership, is hitting the market starting with this 630 sedan. And why couldn’t they sell this entry-level sedan as a Chevy? According to GM’s China boss Kevin Wale:
We carefully studied the market and customers. Quality, design, fuel economy and durability were made a focus to appeal to local car buyers, particularly first-time buyers in the nation’s second- and third-tier markets.
So GM is targeting markets in smaller cities… but this still doesn’t explain why GM wouldn’t want to improve the visibility of its global Chevrolet brand there. According to the WSJ, the answer has to do with nationalism:
The new brand was created to address growing demand for affordable passenger cars in China and is aimed at competing with the country’s home-grown auto brands including Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. and BYD
Yes, Baojun will have its own dealers, and according to at least one report will even go head-to-head with other GM products… all to further the perception that Baojuns are somehow authentically Chinese. Meanwhile, GM’s other Chinese-developed sedan, the New Sail, is just as Chinese as the Baojun but it keeps the Chevy bowtie. Why? Exports, baby. A nation of a billion souls might be a little more tolerant of a huge brand portfolio than the US has been, but it’s only a matter of time before global brands are de rigeur in the Chinese market… and where will Baojun be then? Go ask Oldsmobile, Oakland, LaSalle, Pontiac, Viking and Marquette…