GM backs distinctive styling to sell in Europe

Can the US firm put its Ultium platform problems behind it and crack Europe?

GM backs distinctive styling to sell in Europe
GM is launching an-electric Cadillac line-up for Europe

GM Europe's president Jaclyn McQuaid is backing the distinctiveness of its Cadillac brand to differentiate itself in the European market.

GM first announced its re-entry into Europe in October, a plan which will see a line-up of US-made Cadillac EVs exported. The American giant had previously exited the market in 2017, but the re-entry plan is for the brash American Cadillac brand to stand out from the field.

"When I take a step back and look at the electric vehicle offerings right now, they all look pretty similar. They are all pretty beige — what we have in the Cadillac portfolio is bold; it is an opportunity for a customer to extend their personality to the vehicle they are driving," McQuaid says.

The strategy looks very different from GM's previous European presence, led by domestic brands in Opel and Vauxhall in the UK. While Opel under GM produced more conventionally European hatchbacks and small crossovers, McQuaid says "the Cadillac Lyriq is a bold choice and is for a customer who wants to be loud while being quiet in an electric vehicle".

This 'US-centric' position seems to conveniently ignore the fact that another American band, Tesla, is by far Europe's leading BEV seller. But GM appears to be banking on the relative nascence of Elon Musk's automaker's brand meaning that it lacks the quintessentially American heritage of Cadillac.

Although conventional wisdom says that Europeans simply drive smaller cars than Americans, GM may be helped by Europe's increasing shift towards SUVs. According to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, or Acea, SUV sales in Europe increased from 1.56mn in 2011 to 4.57mn in 2022, making up 49pc of all car sales.

But this poses the question of whether the Lyriq SUV will in fact be different enough to other offerings, or if GM is relying too heavily on appearing differentiated from more conservative European offerings.

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McQuaid is not put off by GM's struggle to gain EV traction in its home market, even though some of the same vehicles will lead its strategy in Europe. The firm's US BEV division and its all-electric European operation are "at different points in their electrification journey from a customer adoption perspective as well as an infrastructure perspective".

However, GM's Ultium platform has faced delays, cost overruns, and software recalls, obstacles that will be problems regardless of the appeal of a vehicle's styling. The OEM overall has fundamentally struggled to produce EVs profitably.

"We have consumer interest in electric vehicles at an all-time high and growing, we have governments all around Europe who are really interested in this technology," McQuaid maintains.

And she is also confident that slowing rates of growth on both sides of the Atlantic since the beginning of 2024 are not a cause for concern. GM's asset-light and dealer-free distribution plan for Europe also gives the company an easier way out if it once again fails to capture European market share.

"The move to EVs will not be linear", McQuaid says, citing "interesting insights from Norway that has 91pc EV penetration in passenger cars".

As yet, however, GM's flagship European BEV, the Cadillac Lyriq, is yet to sell in meaningful volumes, despite being launched in Switzerland last year, and France last month.

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