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Almost two years ago, General Motors decided to pack it in and pull out its subsidiary office from the Philippine market. In its place was appointed an exclusive distributor for the Chevrolet brand, called The Covenant Car Company Inc. or--for simplicity's sake--Chevrolet Philippines. By the time GM left the country, Chevy had incurred a deplorable brand image that was probably just a couple of notches above Chinese territory. And that's saying a lot, considering how GM had only recently been the world's undisputed No. 1 car company in the world. The subsidiary--officially known as General Motors Automobiles Philippines--had sucked so bad at handling the Chevrolet brand that GM could have assigned the wives of former AFP comptrollers to take over the business and they would still have done a better job.

Not that the guys who did take over--Chevrolet Philippines managing director Atty. Albert Arcilla and marketing director Lyn Buena--were only barely qualified. They were, in fact, exactly what the doctor ordered for the damaged brand, having manned the helm of Volvo distributor Viking Cars for so many years. A pair of premium-brand stewards was called in to restore the sparkle of a mass-market brand. As well as anyone in the business, they knew what it took to nurture a brand and maintain prestige in the eyes of customers. Yet, even with all their experience and expertise, they had the humility to ask around as to what needed to be done about the ailing American marque. I remember being personally asked by Atty. Arcilla then, and I remember volunteering what instantly sprang from my mind: "You have to fix your showrooms, sir." I recall saying that a Jollibee fast-food restaurant looked a lot more elegant than a Chevrolet dealership. I meant it.

To my mind, Chevrolet Philippines could bring all the desirable models into our market, but if its showrooms looked only slightly better than a barangay hall, people wouldn't even bother giving these showrooms a glance, let alone a visit. A grubby showroom implies all things bad and substandard: poor service, unprofessional personnel, inferior quality. I don't care if you have the best products in the world, but if you're selling these in a place that's unkempt, you're not going to convince me to even check them out--never mind persuading me to actually part with my money. It's the one thing that's keeping me from going to Ma Mon Luk. I hear they serve some wicked siopao and mami over there. But the scruffy image I have of the restaurant in my head is enough to make me console myself with whatever dimsum the neighborhood food court has to offer.

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Thankfully, Chevrolet Philippines has acted on this showroom problem pretty quickly. I was recently given a sneak peek of the new Chevrolet Greenhills EDSA showroom by Lyn and her marketing services manager Bel Laureola. The newly constructed dealership--which sits on a 1,664-square-meter property on the southbound half of EDSA--signals the dawn of a new car-selling era for Chevrolet in the Philippine market. Costing some P60 million to build, the facility is also the first in Southeast Asia to sport the new Chevrolet showroom design motif. (See the photo gallery below.)

Explaining this new corporate design theme, Lyn said: "The facade is marked by the Heritage blue ribbon and advancing diamond that opens up to welcome customers into the showroom. The new Chevrolet bow-tie logo, which has dynamically evolved over 100 years, is set against a backlit fritted glass. The Chevrolet color palette includes blue, which is the color of confidence, dependability and technology, and goldenrod, which exudes energy, vitality and happiness."

Now, I won't pretend to be remotely familiar with the elements of architecture or interior design--heck, I don't even know what fritted glass is--but the new showroom is absolutely better in every respect compared to all other existing Chevrolet stores in the country. There's an air of freshness and modernity and even prosperity about it. The basic design is said to have originated from China, and this is what all Chevrolet showrooms around the world (even in the US, I was told) will essentially look like in the near future. The high ceiling and the generous use of glass give one the impression that the vehicle display area is much more spacious than it really is. The careful placement of specially designed furniture and stylish acrylic table lamps adds to the lounge-like vibe of the room. Which is just as well, since customers are encouraged to relax while they literally watch their cars being serviced through the transparent glass panels that separate the showroom from the service area. The salespeople, meanwhile, look snappy in their baby-blue long-sleeved shirts and yellow neckties; there's no way you'll mistake them for burger-flippers anymore.

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Speaking of the workshop area, Chevrolet Greenhills EDSA boasts one of the biggest service bays I have ever seen in a Metro Manila car dealership. It can accommodate up to 60 vehicles, Lyn pointed out.

This new Chevrolet showroom is operated by Philadelphia Business Initiatives Inc. PBII has been set up and tasked by Chevrolet Philippines "to be the forerunner of the new generation of Chevrolet dealerships in terms of corporate image, systems operation, customer experience and after-sales administration," shared Lyn. This means that all future Chevrolet dealerships in the Philippines will take its lead, with their showrooms displaying the same design motif. According to Lyn, they have already signed up seven new dealer partners, four of which (including Chevrolet Greenhills EDSA) are expected to open this year.

What about the old and existing Chevrolet showrooms? Will they be required to undergo complete renovation to also reflect Chevrolet's new corporate image?

"We won't require them, but we will definitely guide them into making their showrooms look as close as possible to the new design motif," said Atty. Arcilla. "I believe that once they realize the benefits of a nice-looking showroom, they will undertake the renovation themselves. At some point, they will have to do it to stay competitive, especially if there are new Chevrolet showrooms already."

During my visit, practically all the current and upcoming models in Chevrolet's product line were parked inside the showroom, including the Cruze, the Spark, the Captiva, the Aveo, the Suburban, the Traverse and the Orlando. Only the Camaro was missing. By any measure, this is one of the most formidable vehicle stables in our market today--the kind of stable that deserves world-class showrooms. "We have a robust portfolio and tremendous opportunities ahead of us," acknowledged Lyn. "But we need to transform the face of the brand, and one very important component is through our facilities."

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Look out for Chevrolet, folks. It has the right products and it's now being handled by the right people who know the importance of a polished brand image. People who understand that all the cool robots that Michael Bay can dream up are pointless if the very store peddling the cars looks like the battlefield of Cybertron creatures. Yes, people who probably haven't been to Ma Mon Luk in years.

Photos by the author

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Vernon B. Sarne
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