“One thing is for sure: our portfolio is very attractive and that is the crucial basis for selling more cars.”
Xavier Duchemin is Managing Director Sales, Aftersales and Marketing of Opel Automobile GmbH. Prior to his assignment Duchemin was Executive Director Sales Opel / Vauxhall Europe since March 2018.
The graduate of HEC Business School in Paris has held various senior sales and marketing positions at Groupe PSA since 1989.
Since January 2017, Xavier Duchemin was Managing Director of PSA Retail, previously Managing Director of Peugeot France, Chief Marketing Officer of Citroën worldwide and CEO of Citroën in the UK and Austria.
Mr. Duchemin, after 29 years at Citroën and Peugeot you are now sales and marketing boss at Opel and for the first time working for a German car manufacturer. What does that mean for you?
This is a very exciting task. I’ve always had a lot of respect for the German car brands and it’s great to see Opel under the umbrella of Groupe PSA. At Opel, we have fantastic products, a great tradition – and a lot to do.
At the Town Hall Meeting you presented yourself very nicely in the best German and thus surprised many employees. Where do you learn German so well?
I learned German at school. But that was a few years ago (laughs). About 15 years ago, as managing director of Citroën, I spent two years in Vienna. If you live in a country and want to understand it, it is always important and beneficial to be able to speak the language. I like Germany, the lifestyle and the people. I like to spend my holidays in Bavaria or the Black Forest.
What is your impression of Rüsselsheim and Opel?
I find it unique how the city and the region have grown together with Opel. When you go out on the street, you see and feel Opel everywhere. And the cars convince with excellent comfort and great technologies. The LED matrix light, the heated steering wheels, the AGR seats – we have great features. I’m a big fan of the Insignia and drive one regularly between Rüsselsheim and Paris – on the German side usually a little faster than in France (laughs).
If the package is right, why don’t we sell more cars across Europe?
In parallel with the introduction of the new models, we have had to take many decisions to make the company profitable again. We do not do unprofitable business anymore. We have reduced daily registrations and are in the process of renegotiating the contracts with our dealers. In September, our market share rose again, in some countries especially clearly. In September Opel was the bestselling brand in the EU and Groupe PSA the bestselling manufacturer.
In Germany Opel achieved a passenger car market share of 10.2 percent. This is an increase of 2.6 percentage points and therefore Opel’s highest market share in a single month since December 2010. It went well in other large markets too. In Spain our car market share rose to almost six percent. In France we reached the best passenger car market share since May 2015 with 4.31 percent. And Vauxhall was strong too. The combined share for cars and light commercial vehicles was 8.64 percent. Our colleagues fought hard for this success – a big compliment to the respective countries.
One of the main reasons for this increase is that we have WLTP-certified our entire portfolio in good time. We were able to fully deliver vehicles after September 1, when the new measurement process became mandatory. In contrast to many of our competitors, who were simply not “WLTP-ready” at the time and still are not today. One thing is for sure: our portfolio is very attractive and that is the crucial basis for selling more cars. Our engineers did a great job here. Thanks to all for keeping us on course with a clear view of the important topics. Let’s take the September results as an opportunity for renewed confidence and use them to generate energy for the fourth quarter.
Then tell us a bit about the portfolio of the future …
In the implementation of the product offensive we will once again step on the gas pedal and, in particular, keep an eye on the ambitious European CO2 targets that will apply from 2020 onwards. From the beginning of 2019 until the end of 2020, we will launch a total of eight completely new or revised models. We focus on profitable high-volume segments and will have one of the youngest portfolios of all volume manufacturers. As announced in the PACE! plan, every year at least one completely new model comes along. Next year is the Corsa’s turn. I’m looking forward to it. This is going to be a great car!
And what about electro-mobility?
Here, too, things are progressing very quickly. Already next summer, the order books will open for the all-electric version of the Corsa and for the Grandland X as a plug-in hybrid, which rolls off the line in Eisenach. By the end of 2020, Opel will have a total of four electrified models on offer. They will provide a lot of driving fun and help to boost the demand for e-vehicles. By 2024, each of our models will also be available in an electrified version. But let I can assure you, we will also continue to work very intensively on our internal combustion engines and make them even more efficient.
“In September Opel was the bestselling brand in the EU and Groupe PSA the bestselling manufacturer.”
How important are our dealers for the turnaround?
Very important. The dealers are virtually the face of our brand and often the first point of contact for our customers. We have just informed our partners from all over Europe in a three-day large-scale event in Rüsselsheim about our strategy, our future cars and the future path of our brand. We had very good feedback and I’m sure we can all pull together, because only together can we achieve our goals, especially in terms of customer satisfaction. Every single salesperson must be absolutely convinced of our products and our common path to a successful future. Opel is a strong brand, we have attractive products and of course we want to communicate that too.
How do you want to reassure dealers and customers that Opel remains a German brand under the umbrella of Groupe PSA?
By convincing them. After all, Groupe PSA bought a German brand as an addition to the French brands. Our CEO Carlos Tavares has said very clearly that we do not need another French brand. That was and is the reason. Opel is German and will demonstrate it in the future in a unique way.
What is the focus in the coming months?
We need to increase our market shares again. These are too low in many countries, such as Sweden, Norway or France, where we aim to regain a five percent market share by 2020/21. We will do “German Days” at the dealers in Europe; after all, we are proud to be a German brand with German technology. And as such, of course, we also want to be more successful in our home market. In September we were already well on track, the result should give us momentum.
What role do light commercial vehicles and the new Opel Combo play in this?
In general, we still have a lot of room for light commercial vehicles. Therefore, the new Combo is a very important car for us. It recently won the International Van of the Year, the most important light commercial vehicle award. This title can be an important marketing element for the Combo. Here we will really invest. In addition, the new Vivaro will be launched in 2019; the new van will give us another boost.
How satisfied are you with the Combo launch?
The dealer premiere in Germany on September 29 was very promising, the media coverage in Europe is positive and we already have a lot of orders in some countries. The basis for success is there.
The discussion about the diesel overshadows much good product news. How do you deal with that?
We can only make it clear again and again: we have no inadmissible defeat devices, our cars comply with the applicable regulations. And we are active: for certain diesel versions of Zafira Tourer, Cascada and the previous generation Insignia, which were produced between 2013 and 2016, we are running a voluntary service action. Initially around 31,200 vehicles were affected in Germany, more than 22,000 were already reworked by Opel as part of this campaign. That means there are still 9,000 vehicles that need to receive a software update. The company has done everything to implement the campaign quickly.
“We will soon introduce new electric and hybrid drives that are very sporty and powerful.”
In addition, like many other manufacturers, Opel is making special offers to drivers of older diesel cars. What is behind the offer?
The best solution for reducing vehicle emissions is a speedy fleet renewal. That’s why we have introduced a special environment bonus of up to €8000. Owners of older diesel vehicles of all makes of the Euro 1 to Euro 4 emissions standard can benefit from this premium. The condition is the delivery and scrapping of the old diesel vehicle. In addition, the bonus applies to the trade-in of Euro 5 models from Opel for customers with a place of residence or company headquarters in especially polluted regions when a new Opel vehicle is purchased. I think that’s a great way to help customers switch to the latest and most efficient Opel models.
In advertising, we have recently rather neglected the classic volume models such as Corsa, Astra and Insignia. Will we change that?
Yes, we are working with the team of Tobias Gubitz; he is our man for marketing communications. Together we developed a few golden rules to strengthen our traditionally most successful models – Astra, Corsa and Insignia. In the UK, for example, our flagship is the leading car in its segment, number two in Germany and third in Europe. Not bad – but we can do more. We also want to further promote our light commercial vehicles. For this we need a good communication plan; we will carry out country-specific marketing measures.
Groupe PSA CEO Carlos Tavares is known to be a big motorsport fan. Will Opel revive its long-standing motorsport tradition soon?
For financial reasons, unfortunately, we had to reduce our activities in motorsport in recent years. But it would be very important for the brand if we become more active again in the medium term – for example in customer sport.
Let’s stay with sporty models. We currently have the Insignia GSi and the Corsa GSi in our portfolio. Are there any plans to bring more such models to the market?
We have to wait a bit. We will soon introduce new electric and hybrid drives that are very sporty and powerful. Incidentally, we got excellent feedback on the Corsa GSi. I tried it myself at the international press launch in Alsace – great! The Corsa GSi is really fun!
Would you call yourself a “Car Guy”?
My interest in cars has always been great. For example, for a few years I had a Citroën SM, a 70s sports coupe with a Maserati V6 engine. Excellent! Generally I find historic vehicles highly interesting. The collection of Opel Classic impressed me very much. There I learned a lot about the tradition and history of Opel.
If you had the choice between a 1955 Citroën DS, a 1955 Peugeot 403 or a 1950s Opel Kapitän – which would you take?
Three wonderful cars, but for me it would be the Kapitän, definitely. May I cheat a little? Preferably the Hebmüller convertible version from 1940. The shape is beautiful, it’s a fantastic car – but there are, I believe, only two examples worldwide.