ALTHOUGH the car industry is usually perceived as an industry where males are supposed to lord it over, there are achievers or even overachievers in the industry who are from the fairer sex.
And this should not come as a surprise in the Philippines because the country is actually the highest ranked in the Asia-Pacific Region in the 2015 Global Gender Gap Index Report on gender equality. The Philippines rose to No. 7 among 145 countries globally and remains the highest-ranked country in the region when it came to gender equality.
So when a female works hard and excels in marketing a car brand, that should not actually come as a surprise even if the brand was known many decades back, or even up to now, for very masculine cars like the Camaro, Impala, Bel Air and Corvette.
Lyn Manalansang-Buena, as the senior vice president and director for Marketing and Customer Services of The Covenant Car Co. Inc. (TCCCI), was also very instrumental in leading the Chevrolet brand to unprecedented growth in 2014. During that year, sales of Chevrolet vehicles in the Philippines rose by about 59 percent.
Buena said that level of growth was not achieved overnight as work to make the Chevrolet brand among the top in the Philippines began in 2009, when TCCCI took over the marketing of the brand in the country.
“When we embarked on the journey to managing the Chevrolet brand, the battle cry then was to ‘reignite the passion for Chevrolet’ [and]we needed to make sure that we bring in quality, good value Chevrolet cars to the market,” she said.
“Apart from that, we needed to make sure customer service is at the level that befits a Chevrolet owner,” Buena added.
AMONG THE FIRST FOR 5-YEAR WARRANTY
And on March 2011, TCCCI made a bold move by offering a five-year warranty for Chevrolet vehicles, or the first American car brand in the Philippines to offer such.
Buena said when TCCCI offered a five-year warrant for its cars starting March 2011, most car firms offered up to three years warranty.
“[We wanted] to make sure the market understands that we are in for the long haul,” she said.
“At the heart of it is our belief that our cars are of high quality because we are putting our money where our mouth is. We were betting on the brand,” Buena added.
Among vehicles in the Chevrolet stable, it was the Cruze that made the brand more prominent in the Philippine car market.
“When we entered the market as Chevrolet, it was the Cruze that we had [and]we used it to launch [the brand], and it was met with a lot of success. It was actually the car that propelled us to where we are now,” Buena said.
“I mean the brand recognition, I mean people started paying attention to Chevrolet and a large part of it was because of the Cruze. It was a really good car,” she added.
However, sales of the Cruze tapered off as car buyers started to favor sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that also led to lesser sales of compact cars in the Philippines. Fortunately, TCCCI had a good contender in the mid-sized SUV segment in the Trailblazer.
“We were blessed because it was also the time that General Motors introduced the new Trailblazer, which is our mid-sized sport utility vehicle which really has a lion’s share in our product line,” Buena said. The Trailblazer accounts for about 65 percent of TCCCI’s sales.
She said mid-sized SUVs being powered by diesel engines and having seven seats were among the reasons that class of vehicles gained more buyers. Also, the growing economy resulted to more people buying bigger cars.
“We have a growing middle class and the prospects for the economy are good. And bank loans are okay. So I think it’s easier to decide in favor of the bigger cars,” Buena added.
While mid-sized SUVs are currently the superstars of the domestic vehicle market, TCCCI is also looking into expanding its market offerings, which can include the new Cruze that is gaining positive reviews in some parts of the globe because of its larger dimensions and turbocharged 1.4-liter gasoline engine.
Buena said TCCCI is also looking into introducing a small passenger car while the Trax mini-SUV or crossover was launched late last year.
“And it’s [Trax] actually our representative in the segment that we see will be burgeoning very, very soon. Because we think that people will be going toward that type of preference. There would be people who would want an SUV or crossover but without too much bulk. And I think people will surely like a nice interface [of the Trax]because we spend a lot of time in traffic,” she said.
Chevrolet has a rich heritage because it has been in existence for more than 100 years. So it may not be a surprise the brand is known to car buyers whose parents or even grandparents drove Chevrolets.
“We always talk to a lot of people who always say ‘my lolo [grandfather]used to own a Bel Air, my lolo had an Impala.’ I think a lot of Filipinos have family members who used to drive a Chevrolet, we always encounter a lot of them and we think to ourselves, ‘well, I think we’re there, we’re ingrained in their minds as an American car manufacturer.’ Chevrolet has been around for 104 years,” Buena said.
Looking back at her career in the automotive industry, Buena said she has no regrets even if she did not have any plans to be part of the industry.
After finishing her nursing course, Buena decided to work with Scandinavian Motors Corporation or Volvo Philippines while she was studying for the board exams. Little did she know she will be part of the car industry for good because the front desk job she took at Volvo Philippines was simply to while away time as her nursing review classes started at 9 pm.
“I was taking up my board exam reviews and I was requested to join just as a front desk officer,” she said.
“I thought I would go back to nursing, it did not work out that way,” Buena added.
She eventually was transferred to customer relations where she learned to enjoy her work. Buena would be transferred to marketing where she would become the department’s vice president.
Volvo Philippines and TCCCI are sister companies and both headed by lawyer Alberto Arcilla, who obviously saw Buena’s savvy in marketing. So she was eventually tasked to handle the marketing of Chevrolet from the brand’s revival in 2009.
The work environment of Volvo Philippines and TCCCI also gave her a chance to look after her family.
“While we work very hard, we have the flexibility to look after our families,” Buena said, adding she is very thankful to Arcilla whom she has worked with for about 20 years.
Her rise to handle both marketing and customer service of Chevrolet proves that through it all, it’s hard work that really matters even if the automotive world is still seen as male-dominated. Then there’s the fun factor of working in the car industry where there are numerous product launches, and activities for the customer and the media, among others.
“It’s hard work, but it helps if you think that what you do is fun. It helps a lot,” she said.
“I think it’s [automotive industry]not gender bias, because I found that hard work is hard work. Hard work pays off,” Buena added.