TBY talks to Fernando Agudelo, President & Managing Director of General Motors Ecuador & Ómnibus BB, on working with GM, successful models, and the future of the auto sector.
TBY What factors have allowed Ómnibus BB (OBB) to become the market leader in auto sales?
FERNANDO AGUDELO The Ecuadorean automotive market is very competitive in every segment, and the world’s major brands compete locally. Historically, a few points have set us apart from the competition. Our leadership is based on our experience; since OBB assembled its first bus in 1976—the “Blue Bird Botar”—it has revolutionized the industry. For more than 30 years, we have invested in strengthening our production capabilities for national assembly and in developing local spare parts suppliers. The last decade presented one of the most significant investments in our history with figures that approach the $100 million mark. In addition, I am really proud of the fact that Ecuador and Russia are GM’s best complete knock down (CKD) plants in the world. This strategy has given us a competitive advantage in comparison with imported vehicles, as we are able to offer prime, quality products at affordable prices. The second key to our success is our commitment to customers. Every day we work to build long-term relationships based not only on words, but on actions—we promote a real service culture. For us, it is very important to be part of the vehicle’s life cycle, offering the best after-sales services. In Ecuador, Chevrolet has the largest service network and our customers know that no matter where they buy or drive a Chevrolet, they will find support and service facilities. Finally, we are a corporation committed to talented human resources and the community. We believe that our responsible behavior is a business priority and, of course, a part of our company’s DNA. We are a company that promotes corporate responsibility programs in house with our employees and also focuses on our dealer and supplier network. I am convinced every employee who works at our company believes in sustainability. Some of the most important programs we lead locally include the Designated Driver Program, which seeks to educate the population through the promotion of responsible driving in order to prevent traffic accidents caused by drunk drivers; MGC, a program through which we transfer good management practices to our parts supplier network; and “Gente Chevrolet” and “The Apprentice Program,” which are after-sales education initiatives with our dealer network and employees, aiming to reward and motivate our employees. Finally, we run the “Chevrolet Siempre Conmigo” program, which includes several activities that reinforce our values and cultural priorities among our employees.
Which GM models have historically been well received?
A number of our models have become icons in the Ecuadorean market. In the 1980s, we introduced the Forsa, a very well-suited vehicle for middle-income families, and the Chevrolet LUV, which is still on the market and leads its segment. Other successful models include the Trooper and Rodeo SUVs, introduced in the 1990s, and the Corsa, in the passenger vehicle line. Over the last few years, the Aveo has also become a major trendsetter, and today, along with the LUV and Grand Vitara, they are part of the Ecuadorean car family.
What has been the history and success of the Chevrolet Sail in Ecuador?
We are proud to be the first CKD plant in the world to assemble the Chevrolet Sail platform. Today, it is the bestselling car in Ecuador, even though it has only been in the market for two months. We were planning to sell between 800 and 1,000 units per month; we have surpassed our sales expectations by 20%. We ran a successful launch campaign that started on November 23, 2011, and within 15 days we had sold 1,500 units. To date, we have waiting lists exceeding our current supply. The key behind Sail is the three years we spent developing a product adapted to local roads and habits, and a massive marketing campaign that went beyond offering product features and offered a lifestyle. The Sail launch demonstrates our ability to market iconic, leading products in every segment. We are present in every segment and niche—that is why our brand has achieved such success in Ecuador.
How have Ómnibus BB’s exports evolved over the past few years?
Exports are very important for our business. Our main clients have historically been in the Andean region, Colombia, and Venezuela. In 2011 we exported approximately 10,000 units to the Colombian market, representing around $200 million. For 2012, we are planning to return to the Venezuelan market. One of our strategic objectives is to maintain a positive trade balance, so what we export to Colombia is higher than our import volume. That is the trend in which we believe.
In which areas will the company invest its proposed $72 million budget?
This very important investment demonstrates our commitment to Ecuador and its growth. We are convinced our investment contributions and technology will transfer value to the community. Most of the investments will be allocated to the development of new technology for our cutting-edge products. We finished the first part of the project, which involved improvements in the electrodeposition (ELPO) area, and in 2012 we will finish the construction of a new paint shop for plastic parts and a new base and clear-coat paint shop for vehicles. We are also investing in tools and equipment, new product lines, and logistical improvements. For the Chevrolet Sail alone, we have allocated $10 million for equipment.
What is Ómnibus BB planning to launch in 2012?
No matter the segment, company, or country, it is almost impossible to talk about the next launch. However, I can tell you that we have been investing heavily, building a very strong team, and working to develop new products. We are committed to producing innovative vehicles that will be made in Ecuador.
Are you planning to introduce more ecological cars, such as electric cars or hybrids?
The government has been aiming to promote ecological awareness with its regulations on hybrid cars. However, electric cars will play an important role in the future, as will the Chevrolet Volt. There are many technical requirements to put electric cars on the road, such as the appropriate infrastructure, maintenance availability, recycling programs, and the proper fuels. Today, our focus is to raise the awareness in the community and contribute our knowledge. In February, we presented Future Path 2012, which is an education program led by the Chevrolet Volt, which won numerous prizes in 2011. Although it would not be productive to introduce the Chevrolet Volt to the Ecuadorean market now, we want to highlight its features and showcase the technology, aiming to educate the population. Future Path is not a commercial initiative; it is geared toward universities, public technical centers, and academies. Our schedule of Volt exhibitions began in 2012 and will last a year. We will use the electric cars for learning purposes so that students can dissemble, examine, and study the technology of the future.
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