By necessity, Bob Socia is a multitasker.
Over the past four months, he has reorganized GM's expansion in India, overseen the company's return to Indonesia, sought a higher Chinese profile for Cadillac and wooed joint-venture partner SAIC Motor Corp. As if that weren't enough, he must fend off rival Volkswagen's bid to eclipse GM as China's largest foreign automaker.
GM's former global purchasing chief replaced Kevin Wale as president of GM China on Oct. 1, 2012. He spelled out his plans in an interview with senior writer David Sedgwick during the Detroit auto show in January. Here are edited highlights:
GM was the top foreign automaker in China last year with sales of 2.8 million units. Clearly you will need more production capacity to stay on top.
We commissioned two new assembly plants last year, and we broke ground on two additional plants. They'll be online in 2014. With our two new plants, we upped our production capacity last year by 20%. We are here to compete, plain and simple.
Are you adding dealerships?
Last year, we added 700 dealerships, and we are adding another 400 this year. We are serious about playing in China, and we'll do what we have to do to compete. We have a good plan.
Are those new stores primarily in China's interior, in the Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities?
Yeah, with our Wuling and Baojun brands we are expanding into those areas. Chevrolet, too. With Cadillac, we are still hitting the Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. Cadillac added 90 stores last year, and they'll add 40 stores this year.
Are those new Cadillac stores mostly on China's coast?
It's a mixture. Clearly we've handled the Tier 1 cities pretty well with all the brands. We'll concentrate on Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities, now.
Does the Cadillac brand need to be rebuilt in China?
I don't think the brand needs to be rebuilt. But I do think we need to stay the course. We haven't had the product we would have liked. With the new models, it will really be a shot in the arm. We'll launch the XTS in China in the first quarter of this year. We'll import it for awhile, then we'll start assembly [in China] some time thereafter.
GM's Indian partnership with SAIC Motors has had a slow start, and SAIC reduced its stake in that venture to 7%. Will you lose SAIC as an overseas partner?
They are still with us, and they are still working with us to introduce the right products. Our working relationship hasn't changed at all because of the change in equity ownership. India is a tough market. You've got to have the right products to compete. The Chevrolet New Sail and our Wuling [microvans] should be the right formula. We have high expectations.
But SAIC has set up a sales operation in Thailand without GM. Are you holding discussions with SAIC to join forces in that market?
No, we're not. In Thailand, we're pretty strong. Last year we sold 75,000 units, which is double what we sold a year earlier. We are starting to introduce the right products there.
Are you discussing other ventures with SAIC?
We're working with them to figure out what else we need to do in Indonesia. Indonesia is a huge opportunity. They have 240 million people and a very low vehicle penetration. We have to figure out exactly how to strengthen our position in Indonesia. As one option, we're looking at doing something with SAIC.
How much will China's market grow this year?
The market will grow 5% to 8%. China ended last year with sales of 19.4 million units.
And what is GM's sales target?
I'd like to stay ahead of the industry growth rate. Hopefully we can grab some market share along the way.