Women to Watch China 2013

Cadillac's Violet Li Takes Chinese Drivers Down Route 66

To Triple Number of Cars Sold, She Appeals to Fascination With Americana

By Published on .

Violet Li has an office wall covered with photos and postcards mailed to her by Cadillac's Chinese customers and fans traveling America's iconic Route 66 highway. She taps into Chinese fascination with Americana with a Route 66 community boasting over 1 million followers.

Violet Li
Violet Li

[It's] the biggest community among luxury-car buyers in China," said Ms. Li, director of marketing for Cadillac at Shanghai GM, General Motors' joint-venture in China with SAIC Motors.

She works with digital media like microblog Sina Weibo and Tencent's WeChat, and adds new content from the U.S. trips Cadillac hosts for Chinese opinion formers to cruise along Route 66 in a Cadillac.

"There is a golden opportunity right now for luxury brands and Cadillac is still in the growth stage," said Ms. Li, who started her career at Shanghai GM in the IT department in 1997. She switched in 2004 to the Cadillac division, setting up the dealership network and sales operation.

Today, she is deputy general director in charge of marketing, branding, sales & after-sales -- a big role that comes with big-league challenges. Chinese tend to opt for European premium car brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. Cadillac needs to persuade affluent Chinese that American auto brands rate as luxury, too.

General Motors is serious about turning Cadillac into a major player. In June, it broke ground on a $1.3 billion Cadillac factory in Shanghai. The goal is to triple the number of Cadillacs sold in China to 100,000 a year by 2015.

Cadillac is making inroads with its Chinese-made XTS sedan, "our superstar for this year," Ms. Li said. Another model, the SRX, fits nicely in one of the industry's fastest-growing segments, luxury sport-utility vehicles. Both brands helped drive Cadillac's sales volume up 34% for the first half of 2013.

To achieve another GM goal, quadrupling its share of China's luxury car market to 10% by 2020, "we need to build Cadillac's brand image, a major task," Ms. Li said, especially since she can't adapt much from the U.S. market.

In China, Cadillac buyers are younger and face different driving challenges. Hence her strategy to reach China's future titans: tap into their fascination with America, conjuring up the Wild West heritage, wide-open spaces, and optimism.

"Exploration, innovation, these are areas in which the U.S. and China have a lot in common," Ms. Li said. Cadillac customers "are trying to achieve something big."

Next: Jane Xu

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