Matt Tsien, a Chinese-American, engineer-turned-executive with 37
years experience with GM <GM.N>, said his mandate is not to
radically change direction, but instead is one of continuity in
order to sustain GM's "profitable growth" in the world's biggest
Tsien plans to achieve the objectives in part by focusing on China's
increasing appetite for SUVs and luxury cars.
GM will also offer a range of affordable products in what Tsien
described as a multilayered mega market, with maturing markets like
Beijing and Shanghai and still-emerging auto demand in smaller
inland cities all packed in a large geographical area roughly the
size of the United States.
Tsien said GM expects China's overall vehicle market to grow 7
percent to 10 percent this year compared with 2013, roughly in line
with industry forecasts.
Last year, China's overall sales rose 13.9 percent to 21.98 million
In that relatively strong market environment, GM is "looking to at
least track and maybe outpace (overall market growth) by a little
bit," the 53-year-old executive told Reuters.
"We feel fairly optimistic about 2014."
Sales by GM and its joint ventures in China last year rose 11.4
percent to 3.16 million vehicles.
Tsien — named president of GM China late last year when his
predecessor Bob Socia decided to retire — is the first executive of
Chinese origin to lead GM's operations here.
The automaker began developing its business aggressively in the
mid-1990s when it formed a manufacturing and sales joint venture
with state-owned automaker SAIC Motor Corp in Shanghai <600104.SS>.
After almost two decades, GM's overall annual sales in China account
for roughly a third of the Detroit automaker's global volume.
During that period, Tsien was part of the team that crafted GM
China's initial five-year business plan. From 2009 through 2012, he
also managed a micromini commercial vehicle division called
SAIC-GM-Wuling in southern China. The division grew rapidly during
Tsien said his mandate as GM's new China chief is to "continue with
our partnerships and continue with profitable growth in this
Tsien said he wants GM China to grow as fast as the country's
overall market, which he said GM sees as roughly 7 percent a year to
"30 million plus" vehicles by 2020.
Growth rates slumped in China in 2011 and 2012. "But the market has
still got some very significant potential," he said, suggesting
annual growth of up to 7.5 percent should be "sustainable" for the
rest of the decade.
To help meet its longer-term growth goals, GM will focus on what
Tsien described as two high-potential segments: sport-utility
vehicles of all sizes, as well as luxury cars.
GM's premium brand Cadillac is "a little bit less well-known" in
China, he admitted, but sales have begun perking up with new models
and beefed-up sales channels.
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Cadillac sales last year grew 67 percent to 50,000 cars, and GM has
said it aims to boost its market share of the luxury segment to 10
percent from the current 3 percent.
Many local and global automakers are stressing SUVs in expectation
that sales of these vehicles will double by 2020 to 4 million.
The focus on SUVs and luxury cars does not mean, however, that GM
will take its eye off of affordable no-frills vehicles, Tsien said,
an area where GM has developed a significant position in the past
For GM, the segment includes commercial vans and small cars from
SAIC-GM-Wuling, which are sold under brand names Wuling and Baojun,
and entry-level small sedans and hatchbacks offered by Chevrolet.
SAIC-GM-Wuling last year sold 1.58 million vehicles, accounting for
half of GM's overall volume in China.
These vehicles are purchased by consumers who tend to live in less
developed lower-tier cities across China and are only now emerging
as middle-class buyers, in many cases buying autos that cost around
30,000 yuan ($4,900).
Tsien said GM plans to introduce more affordable-entry models under
Chevrolet, Wuling and Baojun this year and beyond. It will also
expand the vehicle range offered by its second China joint venture
with state-owned FAW Motors Group, which currently produces and
sells pickup trucks and bigger so-called light-duty trucks.
Developing truck-based SUV models for the FAW-GM joint venture, for
instance, was "potentially possible," Tsien said.
Madagascar-born Tsien joined GM in 1976. He completed an
undergraduate electrical engineering degree in 1981 at General
Motors Institute, a university in Flint, Michigan, which is now
known as Kettering University, and a master's degree in electrical
engineering at Stanford University in 1982.
He brings a bilingual and bicultural background to his new role.
"It's not necessarily a criteria," he said. "But my bilingual
capability obviously makes it a lot easier from a communication
standpoint. And the fact that I have lived and grown in both
cultures helps me understand and relate to both perspectives a
little better, so it helps me communicate to our stakeholders in
Detroit better… it also helps me explain to our partners and
colleagues in China" GM perspectives.
(Editing by Neil Fullick)
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