In 2015, General Motors shocked the Eurasian auto market by announcing a wide-scale withdrawal of its Opel and Chevrolet brands. Opel, which GM owned at the time, was removed entirely from the market while Chevrolet was relegated to selling select high-end vehicles like the Tahoe, Camaro and Corvette. At the same time, the Detroit-based automaker decided to expand its Cadillac brand in the country. Removing Chevrolet was particularly bizarre, given that the Bow Tie brand enjoyed very healthy sales volumes and recently started operating a brand-new, state-of-the art production facility near the St. Petersburg metropolis. And though GM recently added a new vehicle – the Traverse – to the Chevrolet lineup in Russia, it’s still missing a major opportunity: off-road-oriented Chevrolet pickup trucks.
The key to understand about the Russian auto market is that Russians have an affinity for the Chevrolet brand. To this day, the Bow Tie enjoys a very healthy reputation and an even stronger desirability in that market. It’s “special” and “cool” to have a Chevy in Russia, as several folks – particularly taxi drivers – told us during a recent trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow. That point of view explains why the Chevrolet Niva continues to sell relatively well, consistently placing in Russia’s top 30-40 best-selling vehicles list. The Niva’s success is primarily attributed to the prized Chevy badge on the small utility vehicle. If it weren’t for the Bow Tie, the SUV – which ironically has zero GM/Chevrolet DNA – would likely enjoy significantly fewer sales, and much less interest.
And that brings us to the topic du jour: introducing off-road-oriented Chevrolet trucks – variants of the Colorado and/or Silverado – would further progress GM’s goal of competing in the higher end of the market, while providing additional sales volume and, ultimately, profits. In fact, GM provided that exact reasoning earlier this year when it launched the Traverse and Colorado in South Korea to purvey the “real American lifestyle” that Korean buyers typically haven’t experienced with the brand locally. That same line of thinking can be applied to the Russian market vis-à-vis the Colorado and Silverado. But wait, there’s more.
Much like in the U.S., off-roading and overlanding is a rapidly growing activity in Russia. And much like in America, both tend to be relatively expensive hobbies. To that end, Chevrolet has the right offerings to satisfy the growing need for capable off-roading and overlanding models – such as the Colorado ZR2 and Silverado Trail Boss. With many customers already buying capable off-road vehicles in the Russian market from the likes of Toyota and Mitsubishi (yes, Mitsubishi!), it wouldn’t be a huge stretch for GM to capitalize on the opportunity and turn those buyers into Chevrolet customers instead. Better yet, the 88 Chevrolet dealerships in Russia today should all have no issues selling and servicing the Colorado and Silverado, since they currently do so with the Tahoe.
As it stands, the Russian auto market sees anywhere between 1.6 million to 1.8 million annual new-car sales. According to market sales and registration data tracked by GM Authority and parent company Motrolix, about 100,000 of those are what could be considered off-road-oriented vehicles, such as the Toyota Forturer, Land Cruiser 200, Land Cruiser Prado, and Hilux, as well as the Mitsubishi Pajero, Pajero Sport and L200. None of those models are as capable as the aforementioned Chevrolet trucks, nor are they as unique or eye-catching in the Russian market.
In all, GM would create an overnight success in shipping off-road-capable variants of Chevrolet trucks like the Colorado ZR2 and Silverado Trail Boss variants in Russia, which it already sells in other markets like North America and the Middle East. With lots to win and little to lose, it’s a decision that should take place sooner rather than later, much like its recent decision to expand the Cadillac brand in Russia.