To say that Joachim Sell has the world on his shoulders is not an understatement. The 47-year-old German not only oversees car sales in 16 markets, he also looks after the sale of parts and accessories, and the retailing of Opel components to other GM (General Motors) brands.
Joachim, who holds a master’s degree in industrial engineering, which is a combination of business administration and mechanical engineering, is very much into cars. However, prior to joining Opel, he was working as a consultant at another company.
Joachim’s foray into the automotive industry only began in 2003, when he began working in Opel’s European aftersales division.
He then moved to the firm’s strategic business development division, before joining its product planning department.
With his breadth and depth of experience, Joachim sits down with Torque to discuss Opel’s growth strategy, and told us about some of the interesting cars he’s driven.
How exactly did you end up working in Opel?
I was working as a strategic management consultant and had an assignment with Opel. That’s how I got to know and ended up at the company. This happened about 12 years ago.
You mentioned that you were in product planning. Which models’ development were you involved in?
I was involved with the development of the Insignia and the Saab 9-3. During this time, I spent three years in Detroit, USA.
In which regions are the markets you oversee located?
South America, North and South Africa, Israel and Singapore. I also oversee a few markets in the Middle East.
Apart from determining the models to be sold in a region, what are you other responsibilities?
We have to capture requirements and determine the powertrain lineups that will suit the various countries. We must also figure out which bodystyles and what sort of pricing will work.
Do you work closely with the designers?
Yes, and we work closely with engineers and marketing, too. That’s what makes my job so interesting – there are many cross-functions.
What is the biggest challenge in your role today?
[Laughs] You mean besides interviews like this? It’s very fast-paced. Once you’re in contact with customers, life gets exciting! It can also be unpredictable, since I’m responsible for a multitude of markets, each with their own requirements and special circumstances.
Why doesn’t Opel have a brand presence in China?
We look at the Chinese market from an overall corporate perspective. Within GM’s portfolio of brands, there are three that are present and successful in China: Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac.
We have shared products between Opel and Buick. So we are “present” in China – under the Buick brand.
Introducing and maintaining a brand in a market requires a lot of effort. If it already has a strong presence, you have to ask: Where do you put your resources? I think the strategy that we’re pursuing in China is successful.
Speaking of shared products, how similar is an Opel Astra to a Vauxhall Astra?
I can’t give you a percentage, but they’re basically identical. Opel and Vauxhall are sister brands.
Each one leverages on their longstanding brand presence – Opel in Europe and Vauxhall in the UK. The UK has grown to be our most important market because it has the highest volume in Europe, followed by Germany.
In North America, Opel provides cars to Buick. We launched the Cascada convertible there, except it’s called the Buick Cascada. We’re happy with what it does from a volume perspective and what it does for the Buick brand.
Did you get to drive any interesting cars in Detroit?
Well, I did get to drive a GMC Yukon XL. So I have an appreciation for the term “full-sized SUV”. In a way, it was addictive. It was a different driving experience and I liked it a lot.
On the other end of the spectrum, I drove a Chevrolet Spark electric vehicle. In it, I was able to leave big SUVs and powerful sports cars behind as I sped off from the traffic lights. It was fun!