GM CEO seeks global savings with Opel/Buick intimacy image

Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson is pushing GM to work Opel and Buick together, in order to hold down costs and carve out a profitable niche between upscale Cadillac and mass-market Chevrolet, the company’s global brands.

The new Opel Mokka is a perfect example of this pro-active attitude, with the small SUV being sold in Europe as an Opel and in China and the U.S. as the Buick Encore. GM Europe, consisting mostly of Opel and sister brand Vauxhall, has lost more than $18 billion in Europe since 1999 and continues to be a drag on the Detroit-based automaker’s bottom line. After the board chose not to sell Opel in 2009, Akerson, a Navy veteran, is positioning it and Buick as what he calls “flanker brands” serving regional tastes.

“This Buick-Opel guiding principle of similar if not identical vehicles is the right thing to do,” said Jim Federico, a GM executive director in product development, in an interview. “It makes it extremely clear for brand identity for Chevrolet and Cadillac and these can fit nicely in the middle.”

Opel and Buick can help Akerson reach several ambitious goals for mid-decade: stem losses in Europe, boost North American profit margins and increase China sales. GM’s European operations are being revamped, including cutting costs, closing an assembly plant and introducing new models, such as the Mokka.