At The N.Y. Auto Show: Q&A With GM's Mark LaNeve

Mark LaNeve, General Motors head of sales and marketing, concedes that this year will be rough. The company focused on its Pontiac division at the N.Y. Auto Show, reinforcing that brand's positioning with a GXP G8 sedan, the Solstice coupe and a truck-like version of the G8, yet to be named.

Q: Will this be a lousy year for the auto industry?

A: It will be tough, but we are seeing just what we predicted. We feel it is going to be a year that runs a little behind last year. Last year, the industry sold 16.3 million vehicles in the U.S.; in the first two months of the year it was tracking 15.6 million, almost exactly what we thought. We said it would run below 16 [million] in the first half, and above it in the second. With the Bear Stearns thing, we don't feel as confident as we did--but I still think it's going to be roughly below trend but not a huge fall-off. it's still a pretty decent market.

Q: You are showing Pontiac vehicles at the show. GM's strategy is to sell Pontiac in dealerships that also sell Buick and GMC. How is that channel strategy faring?



A:We currently have 80% of volume of those brands sold through "on channel" dealers--selling all three brands. We have done over 600 dealer projects in the last couple of years--be they buy, sell, or consolidation. We have about 100 projects left of significant size to do, so I would characterize it as three-quarters done.

Q: What are the market benefits of putting those brands together?

A:The synergy is, you have GMC covering trucks and crossovers, Buick in near premium, and Pontiac as affordable performance: three different price positions in the market, 20 models between the three brands covering 80% of market coverage. It compares very favorably with Nissan and better than Honda and about the same as Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge stores.

Q: With Saturn now becoming a full-line brand (rather than the limited-vehicle brand it used to be) is it redundant vis à vis Chevrolet?

A:Chevrolet will have a strong, expressive American value aspect to it. Increasingly, Saturn will be "Euro sophistication." Saturn will compete with Volkswagen. That will become real evident. It will be, volume-wise, in the 250,000 to 300,000 unit range, premium to Chevrolet.

No--that wasn't Saturn's historic position, which was below Chevy, so we will have to move Saturn up. People say "Do you need both Chevy and Saturn, and I say, "Does the market need VW?" Well, if one of them goes away, it should be VW, not Saturn. We are going to compete head-on with them.

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