TOKYO--General Motors thinks Japan is ready for an American-brand small car and is banking on the Chevrolet Aveo, its first small-car entry in half a decade in Japan, to help boost sales here this year.
The sales target is minuscule--annual volume of just a couple hundred units. But the goal is to position the Aveo as a feeder model to lure young Japanese customers and keep them coming back for more upmarket models, Sumito Ishii, managing director of GM Asia Pacific Japan, said in an interview.
The Aveo, which will be badged as the Sonic in the United States, will hit Japan dealerships in the second half of 2011. Even the Aveo's meager volume can make an impact in a notoriously finicky market where GM sells fewer than 2,000 vehicles a year. Its arrival signals a shift from GM's focus on a niche portfolio of Cadillacs, Camaros, and Corvettes, the mainstay of its 40 Japan dealerships.
One thing GM won't do is put the car up against local rivals such as the Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit. GM will offer only top-trim Aveo packages that can command higher sticker prices.
"If a Japanese customer goes out of the way to buy a non-Japanese product, there's a premium," spokesman George Hansen said. "They want it to be cool, to stand out."
But the Aveo may first need to overcome the baggage of being an American car built and designed in South Korea, by GM's local small-car R&D unit. While American cars are perennial tough sells in Japan, Korean cars are even tougher.
Hyundai Motor, which is notching record sales worldwide, abandoned the Japan market in 2009 after failing to gain a foothold.
(Source: Automotive News)