Chevrolet chief pays visit to Salisbury dealership
By Mark Wineka
Even in these tough economic times, Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper Jr. sounds an optimistic chord when he talks about recent model successes and vehicles on the horizon for his company.
Chevrolet has scored a hit recently with its redesigned Malibu, which has taken on midsize competitors such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
The stylish 2008 Malibu has become the Chevy lineup’s star this year.
“When you bring out great product first and foremost, all the other functions and things you have to do become easier,” Peper told the Post in a brief interview Wednesday at Team Chevrolet-Cadillac on Jake Alexander Boulevard.
“It’s easier to market a grand slam hit like the Malibu. It’s still a tough business, but it becomes easier when the product is great. So I’m very optimistic. Product is everything in this business.”
Peper came to Salisbury Wednesday to see the $1.5 million in renovations at Team Chevrolet-Cadillac and speak to the dealership’s 60 employees. He and Team Chevrolet owner Thom Dillard are acquaintances through the National Dealers Council.
Vehicles in Chevrolet’s future include the Traverse, a crossover sport-utility vehicle set to debut this fall.
Early next year, Chevy will bring a much awaited return of the Camaro to the market.
A new Equinox will show up in the summer of 2009 and, by the end of 2010, Chevrolet could be adding some sparks with its gas-free Volt with a “range-extender system.”
“We think it’s going to be outstanding,” Peper said. “… We’re trying to be first in bringing a vehicle like this to the market, and we think it could change the entire industry.
“Plus, people are very concerned about fuel economy now.”
General Motors, of which Chevrolet is a part, says it has the most models with Environmental Protection Agency-estimated fuel economy of 30 miles per gallon or higher.
GM has more than 2.5 million FlexFuel vehicles on the road today ó those using E85 Ethanol, for example.
It also plans to release an average of one new hybrid model every three months over the next four years.
Peper, general manager for Chevrolet since March 2005, said the new Malibu (30 mpg highway) has been “absolutely outstanding.”
He credited its exterior and interior styling and said it’s one of the safer and quieter cars on the road. When the J.D. Power car rating reports are published soon, Peper predicted, the Malibu will rate as “one of the highest quality cars we’ve ever built at GM.”
Peper said the No.1 factor in a person’s purchase of a new car is still exterior styling, and it’s why Malibu and Impala sales are doing well.
Dillard, Team’s owner, said he was on the Malibu brand team for Chevrolet and had input on the model when it was still in the drawing board and clay model stages. He and other dealers gave suggestions on the exterior, interior and option packages and “put a lot of value in them,” Dillard said.
An emphasis also was placed on making it quiet, he added.
As it has done with other businesses, the Internet has changed car selling. Chevrolet is doing more advertising on the Internet than ever before, Peper said, and communicating more with customers that way.
Peper himself regularly writes in the company’s FastLane Blog.
“It’s a great way to get information,” he said, “because you get all kinds of feedback, positive and negative, but you get a lot of feedback.” Team also has expanded its Internet sales activities.
Team Chevrolet-Cadillac’s extensive renovations have made it a prototype dealership heavy on glass and metal facades on the outside, where Team also has added a brick paving pad in front for featured car displays, a new delivery area on the side, new lighting, a new sign and a spot-free car wash.
The inside features an “American Revolution” reception area and showroom.
“I get lots of comments from people around town about the facility,”‘ Dillard said.
A lot of the changes inside ó also stylish with its glass, metal and light maple furniture ó have been geared toward open-room negotiations that help people feel more comfortable and less pressured in the car-buying process, he added.
Sales offices are upstairs and used for administrative details and customer follow-up calls, not closed-door negotiations.
The revamped Goodwrench Service area has glass doors and new floors, with more improvements to come.
On his visit, Peper learned that Team, which is sporting a new logo, had a 100 percent rating last month on the Customer Satisfaction Index for both sales and service and a solid 90 percent for the past year.
Dillard said last month’s sales were good and, despite the economy, he has had a positive year.
Longtime customers and customer retention are the keys, he said, and the Malibu and Cadillac CTS have been good sellers. Chevrolet’s 100,000-mile warranty “has helped us a ton,” Dillard added.
“Ed went to bat for us and got it,” he said.
At his dealership, Dillard said sales on big utility vehicles have been slow, while trucks and small-car brands have been holding their own. Dillard is looking forward to the return of the Camaro next year, and he predicts the Traverse will “knock some socks off” later this year.
Team Chevrolet-Cadillac’s grand opening for its remodeled digs will last through the end of May.
Peper presented Team with a plaque Wednesday honoring its commitment to Chevrolet and the local community “to provide the finest retail environment and ownership experience.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or email@example.com.