California Autos Examiner

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sitdown With Chevrolet's Ed Peper

Every time I chat with Chevrolet VP Ed Peper, it seems as if his product portfolio is overflowing with milk and honey. This year was no exception. The Traverse has arrived on the scene, the Camaro is almost here and now he’s got an exiting new Equinox to market. Looking into the future, there will be the Spark to infuse some life into Chevy’s entry level presence and the Orlando to give Chevrolet three entries in the family hauler space.

Still, it never hurts to think about the future. Here’s what I learned.

The first nugget was that the HHR will be replaced by the Orlando. That means the HHR won’t overstay its welcome and its high heritage roof won’t be overplayed. The Orlando name will be used globally and at least initially offered in seven seat configuration only. The Orlandos sold in the U.S. may be manufactured outside of North America. Peper said that it had always been his intention to bring the Orlando to the U.S., but that it did take some effort for the division to make it a done deal.

The Spark not only be a new addition, it will also be marketed in new ways. Peper mentioned smart and its success here in America, but it’s doubtful that a reservation system will be setup. Peper also cited his competitors’ success with port installed accessories and said that he’d like to see some structural changes his parts network to allow for more/easier customization. Do look for Chevrolet to find new ways to speak to its customers. In speaking with people familiar with the project, they hinted that Spark will continue the use of fabric on the dash, like the recently introduced Cruze. Peper views the Spark as an important hedge for the division given today’s uncertainties. We’ll see the Euro-production Spark in Geneva.

Peper repeatedly complained about the wild gyrations in gasoline prices and how it wreaked havoc with product forecasting. One issue that Chevrolet is pondering is what to do with is next Colorado and Silverado pickups. Truth be told, while there is only hundreds of dollars in difference between manufacturing the two, consumers expect thousands of dollars difference in price. That kind of spread is difficult to maintain when competition is so cutthroat in the fullsize pickup business. Similarly priced, consumers are going to want to get more for their money and will opt for the larger model. Also factoring into Chevrolet’s planning is Ford’s forthcoming F100, a model that will offer light duty users an option if they feel that the F150 is too much truck for them. Peper says that Chevrolet will have a direct response to the F100.

Continuing with the market instability theme, Peper said that there is not set timetable for a next generation Impala. Peper would not commit to any timeframe, even for when we might see a concept, so for now the existing model will soldier on.

The Corvette is another model that will not get a complete rework anytime soon. However there will be a mid-cycle refresh that change both exterior and interior. Peper is very appreciative of the tremendous equity the Corvette has, but feels that for the mid-term the fresh will keep the faithful happy.

The light duty diesel that was supposed to debut shortly has been delayed. I asked Peper if it was technical or market conditions imposing the delay and he said it was market conditions, but he pondered that answer for a number seconds before he said anything.

Asked about a direct response to the purpose built hybrids from Honda and Toyota priced in the high teens and low twenties and Peper indicated that Chevrolet will not play in that space. The answer from GM is the Volt and variants on the Voltec platform. Peper sees the Volt’s setup winning out in the long term and doesn’t see a need to offer something he views as an interim solution.

Asked if he’d ever play again in the minivan segment or consider Chrysler’s minivan product line if it was offered to him, Peper said that he wasn’t very interested. “Every time I open the paper lately, the Odyssey and Sienna are on sale. They are giving those things away,” quipped Peper. Instead, the crossover lineup of Orlando, Equinox and Traverse should meet his customers’ needs.

Finally, I asked about the remainder of the auto show season. Other than the production Spark, Chevrolet has nothing that I know of, so I was curious for the answer. Peper said that his division had display a lot and indicated that there would not be much more, but Terry Rhadigan chimed in “It’s always good to keep some surprises.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am in receipt of a letter from Mr. Ed Peper and I need a us mail mailing address to respond to the letter , I have written the letter and wish to send it , so I need to know Mr. Pepers, address!
Thank You !
Mike Chapman
6140 east sandpoint dr.
wasilla, alaska 99654