China Would Rather Have Buicks
By Rick Wagoner

(FORTUNE Magazine) – GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, 51, is pushing his cars into China in a big way. GM now gets about a third of its auto profits from China, and its market share--12.1% and rising--is second only to Volkswagen's.

THERE IS a straightforwardness to the way the Chinese negotiate things. What they are interested in becomes clear quickly. When we were ready to go into the China market, they said, "Okay, we will choose GM, and we want you to use Buick." We said, "It is not really one of our global brands. We'd probably rather use something else." They said, "We'd like you to use Buick." We said, "We'll use Buick." And it has worked great.

Chinese consumers are brand-conscious and quite well informed about cars, even though many won't be able to afford one for a while. Their expectations for quality--for example, in vehicle interiors--are very high. That's not bad news for us: I tell our U.S. dealers that one of the best things that has happened to them is the strength of Buick in China. To a certain extent, Buick in China is evolving to a positioning that we really want in the U.S.--relatively more upscale in the consumer's mind. We trade ideas back and forth between our Buick people here and in China, and work together regularly on things like design ideas and brand positioning. Obviously the markets are different, so we can't take things exactly, but there is definitely a synergy in the conversation and the thinking about products and interiors and things like that, which has been fascinating to see evolve. I'd like to tell you it was our plan from the beginning, but to be honest it has evolved over time. -- Interview by Alex Taylor III