Most Americans think of Chevrolet, like it or not, as the quintessential American car company: "See the USA in your Chevrolet" and "Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, Chevrolet" are familiar, if fading, refrains.

Yet Chevy is also fast becoming General Motors' core global brand, and one of the world's largest. As of its Nov. 3, 2011, 100th birthday, it was operating in more than 140 countries, and more than 60 percent of its sales were outside the United States. In 2010, its global sales hit a record 4.26 million units, the only top-five global brand to increase its market share. And with 3.6 million vehicles sold in the first nine months of 2011 (up 14 percent from 2010), Chevy was on track for the best-ever sales in its 100-year history.

In the U.S., Chevrolet sold more than 1.5 million vehicles in 2010 and is up 15 percent from that rate with 1,353,943 vehicles out the door in the first nine months of 2011.

Then and Now

Chevrolet was created in 1911 by Swiss-born race driver Louis Chevrolet and auto entrepreneur William C. Durant (the same Durant who had founded General Motors three years earlier, then lost it due to bad financial management). The two set out to build cars with more style and value than volume leaders of the time, and their first one was bolted together in 1911 in a rented garage near downtown Detroit.

A hundred years and more than 209 million cars and trucks later, Chevrolet is on a worldwide roll, thanks largely to a recent return to that original concept of building affordable vehicles with style, value and features unmatched by segment competitors. Back in 1955, then Chevrolet chief engineer Ed Cole re-engineered the V8 engine to make performance accessible and affordable to millions of customers. With state-of-the-art modern versions still powering Corvettes, Camaros, light-duty trucks and other GM vehicles, this "small-block" V8 has been honored by Ward's AutoWorld as one of the 10 Best Engines of the 20th Century.

Looking Ahead

Today's successful formula boils down to products that look more expensive than they are and offer interior roominess, comfort, quietness and features many direct competitors don't. One excellent example is the Chevrolet Cruze, currently the best-selling compact car in the U.S., which recently surpassed one million sales worldwide. Another will be the all-new Malibu mid-size sedan that will launch this fall in South Korea before arriving here in early 2012.

The all-new Sonic subcompact (Aveo in global markets) has already impressed us, and the forthcoming Chevy Spark (Beat elsewhere) mini-car looks to be another promising new entry. A new global midsize Colorado pickup will launch first in Thailand, then find its way here next year. Also in 2012, Chevy will introduce an all-new 2013 TrailBlazer midsize SUV for global markets, beginning in Thailand. Built on a new global platform developed by GM in Brazil, it will combine the hauling and towing capability of an SUV with the car-like ride and efficiency of a crossover. Will it come to North America? Very likely.

Last year's Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) wedded electric power to a range-extending gas engine. The 2013 Malibu Eco model will feature eAssist "mild hybrid" technology that boosts fuel efficiency by 25 percent. Also coming in 2013 will be a battery-electric Spark EV with a new U.S.-built motor, joining Volt and Malibu ECO as key elements of GM's global electrification strategy to reduce petroleum use and vehicle emissions.

Chevrolet claims 46 million vehicles on the road in North America today, and that total is growing fast despite the fact that its brand perception still lags reality following GM's 2009 bankruptcy. Beyond its highly popular compact Cruze, Chevy's unqualified current hits include the Equinox crossover and the Camaro sport coupe. Chevy segments its target buyers into "Fun and Personal," "Modern Family," "Auto Pioneer" (Volt, Spark EV), "Performance" and "Truck."

International Outlook

Beyond North America, would you believe that China, Russia, Uzbekistan and India are among Chevy's top 10 markets? In 2000, the brand had a one-percent share in countries covered by GM International Operations (GMIO), which represent 80 percent of the world's population and 50 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. Today, it's 28 percent. It has seen 551 percent growth in India since 2002 and has been the leading domestic brand in Russia (because Chevys are built there) since 2007, with a million units sold as of October 2011.

In South America, where Chevrolet has been the leading brand for a decade, one in five vehicles sold is a Chevy. It leads with a 40 percent market share in Venezuela and 17 percent in Chile, has led in Colombia for 25 years and is number two in Argentina. In Brazil, the world's fourth largest vehicle market, Chevy's 600,000 vehicles sold in 2010 was 60 percent of the one million sold in the region.

Though still small in numbers, Chevrolet is the fastest-growing brand in Europe, where it competes with well-established German, French and Italian marques, including GM's own Opel and (in the U.K.) Vauxhall. In 2010 it accounted for only about 100K units in Europe (one percent of the one million total), but Chevy's growth in 2011 has been nearly nine percent.

Analysts predict that 80 percent of global vehicle sales growth in the next 40 years, will be outside North America and Europe. Chevy projects 1.5 million units in South America by 2015, up 50 percent from 2010. And while Brazil is its number two market today, China should surpass it in 2012. No surprise that GM's highest-volume brand is marking its 100th birthday by aggressively pursuing global growth in addition to increasing North American sales and share.

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