THE appointment of Port Elizabeth-born Ian Nicholls as president and MD of all General Motors (GM) operations in sub-Saharan Africa, including SA, is an important step in streamlining the US-based group’s African activities, GM said on Tuesday.
Mr Nicholls, the operations vice-president of General Motors SA (GMSA), will take up his new post on June 1. He will be responsible for GMSA’s manufacturing, marketing and export operations in SA, and for the GM group’s sales across the sub-Saharan region.
He will also oversee sales in Israel, which is separated from the rest of the Middle East region for political reasons.
Mario Spangenberg, president of GM’s overall Africa and Middle East region, said: “We are focusing our investments on where the opportunity for growth is greatest. Africa is recognised as the next frontier for growth for the automotive industry.”
GMSA builds the Chevrolet Spark car and Utility pick-up at its assembly plant in Port Elizabeth, as well as the Isuzu KB bakkie.
Export growth into Africa has been slow and Mr Nicholls told Business Day that the company was anxious to remedy it. The plant has annual capacity for nearly 100,000 vehicles, but assembles fewer than half of this figure. The Spark and Utility are almost exclusively for sale in SA.
He considers the Isuzu KB to be the prime GMSA export product. Last year, GM sales of Isuzu, Chevrolet and Opel vehicles in sub-Saharan Africa — most sourced from outside SA — improved 31%.
Mr Nicholls said: “We want to grow export volumes in the markets we have, but we also want to have additional markets.”
GM was considering Nigeria as a second major African production centre but a decision was still some way off. “There is a great opportunity there in terms of Nigeria’s population and those of nearby countries,” he said. “But there are too many ‘grey’ imports and, for now, the country has no local suppliers. There is potential but making it work won’t be easy.”
Mr Nicholls has worked for GMSA and associate companies since 1990. He also spent time in the US, where he was responsible for GM global portfolio development for pick-ups.