Chevrolet Philippines president and managing director Atty. Alberto Arcilla on his company’s past and future plans
How did a lawyer like you get into the car business?
I was a practicing lawyer focused on Corporate and Admin Law when I was tasked to assist the working team—put together by Richard Lee, Peter Garrucho and Selene Lee Yu—responsible to pitch to be the authorized importer and distributor of Volvo in the Philippines. Early on, the group of Mr. Lee had already been the importing arm of Volvo vehicles for Tourist and Diplomat Sales and Volvo Penta Engines. When Category III of the Car Development Program was implemented by the government, it paved the way for the entry of premium brands like Volvo, and the group saw the opportunity to serve this segment of the industry.
Initially, my task was focused on the negotiations and legal matters relating to the distributorship agreement and the incorporation of the company. When the team successfully got the franchise, I was invited to be part of Scandinavian Motors Corporation as its legal and admin head, and eventually was given the opportunity to learn the dynamics of the company and the industry, which led me to be the sales and distribution head and eventually the company’s president and CEO.
What are the main differences between introducing a new brand (Volvo in the ’90s) and reintroducing a struggling brand (Chevrolet in 2009) to the Philippine market?
When we started with Volvo in 1994, the automotive industry was starting to develop but had very strong potential. The Philippines had a steady and growing population, which established a good market base. Further, the steady growth of the economy not only provided disposable income for the affluent, progressive market, but it also required transportation and mobility across all segments of society.
We came in at the onset of the automotive growth, and that gave us a lot of room to participate aggressively. With the guidance and vision of Richard Lee, our team built Volvo as a premium brand of choice. The team had the advantage of the strong brand equity of Volvo. Our main task was to establish the presence, offer the new lineup and create a new premium experience. The challenge was to introduce a new premium brand, new cars and a new experience, and we feel we were successful in creating our niche in that segment at that time.
In 2009, when we had the good fortune of being appointed as the independent distributor of Chevrolet in the Philippines, the dynamics of the industry had changed tremendously. By then, the playing field had expanded with almost all the brands already participating in the industry, each with their full line of product offers and tariff advantages. We also came in at the heels of a restructuring phase of Chevrolet’s parent brand General Motors. But our group knew the strength and heritage of Chevrolet as a brand and as a company. We were excited and optimistic that we could reboot the brand and offer the new products in a way that the Filipino market would appreciate. The challenge was acknowledging the baggage that it carried and to create a message and experience for the market.
From 11 Chevrolet dealers back in 2009, we have grown our network to 29 dealers nationwide. From an annual sales of just close to 3,000 units a year, we have steadily grown to almost 9,000 units in a span of six years. We feel there is still a lot of work to do, but with the growth of the market and the expanding product offer, we are confident we will continue the appreciation of our offers and message by the market, and grow the brand and the business in the coming years.
When The Covenant Car Company Inc. took over the Chevrolet brand in the Philippines, what was the brand’s biggest problem that you felt needed immediate fixing?
The ownership experience, the product offer and the communication strategy to connect clearly with our market. We worked closely with our principals in ensuring the ownership experience of our clients be enhanced, and we planned out an expanded product range that would serve the growing market segments. In our first year of operations, we received recognition for “Customer Service for After-Sales” from the market research firm JD Power. Also, the successful product introductions of the Cruze, the Spark, the Colorado and the Trailblazer were some of our early victories that gave us the momentum to do more and do better.
What, in your opinion, is your team’s biggest accomplishment so far in improving Chevrolet’s standing in the local market?
Our primary objective was to “Bring Back the Passion for Chevrolet.” We remember the strong brand equity of Chevrolet in the Philippines and its brand recall for its heritage models. We introduced new and exciting models, enhanced our after-sales programs, increased our sales performance and expanded our network. All these contributed to bringing back the passion for our brand.
Do you feel your management style better suits an American automotive brand compared to a European one?
My experience as a lawyer is always to achieve a win-win situation, and I bring that same perspective with all my dealings with our principals, dealers, clients and my colleagues at work and in the industry. I have always subscribed to this progressive consultative management style. I believe in working closely with our principals so we can understand our joint objectives and plan out together how to achieve these objectives. The management team duplicates this dynamic, and it has worked well for us. Fortunately, both principals (Volvo and Chevrolet) respected our corporate culture, and this has been a good platform for our growth objectives.
What’s the best car you’ve ever driven?
It would have to be the first car I ever bought with my own savings, a 1991 Mitsubishi Lancer GLXi. More than the car, it was the accomplishment I remember to this day.
And what’s the one Chevrolet car not currently sold in our market do you strongly feel would be a bestseller here? Are you bringing it in?
The Corvette. And yes, we will bring it in.
If US president-elect Donald Trump made good on his campaign promise to bring back automotive jobs in America, how do you think this would impact the Chevrolet business?
We are anticipating the mechanics of this policy direction. My limited understanding and subjective view is that if the objective is to bring back manufacturing and jobs to America, then the volume and output of the manufacturing plants must be sustained and increased to make the operations viable. The best way is to increase market penetration by producing low-cost quality cars that can sell not only in the United States but also in other countries. If this will be achieved, then American brands will have a more competitive advantage, and that will be beneficial for us as a distributor of Chevrolet.
As a lawyer, do you think Trump is allowed to compel American carmakers to bring manufacturing operations back in the US?
Yes, the President has the power to issue new policies and directives. Companies work based on existing laws and executive orders or presidential decrees. There are existing trade agreements that have the effect of law when ratified accordingly. All these will remain valid.
However, the power of the executive branch to create new policies is inherent to that branch of government, and therefore as long as the elements of a valid law exist, the President may issue new laws, policies and directives that have the effect of amending or how the existing trade agreements will be implemented.
Cite one brilliant traffic-fix idea.
Follow traffic rules and regulations.