GM banks on Transformers for faster growth

Updated: 2014-06-28 06:50

By Bloomberg (China Daily)

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The favorable exposure in China could be a boon for GM as the automaker plays defense in the US over its handling of a recall of 2.59 million small cars with ignition issues linked to at least 13 deaths.

Ed Welburn, GM's head of design, said he's noticed the Transformer logo on Chevys in Shanghai.

"You know it didn't come through the factory that way," Welburn said. "People added it to their Chevrolets, and it's a very positive relationship."

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GM is betting that the latest film, which features a cast led by Mark Wahlberg, will have a similar impact in China. The first three pictures in the franchise have generated $2.67 billion worldwide for Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures, according to Box Office Mojo.

The last installment, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, was released in 2011 and had the second-biggest opening weekend for a US film in China, pulling in $56 million, and ending with total sales of $165 million.

The number of theater screens in China tripled from 2008 to 2012, reaching 13,118, according to Beijing-based EntGroup, a research firm. Box-office receipts climbed 36 percent from 2011 to 2012 to reach $2.7 billion and surged to $3.6 billion last year, data from Rentrak show.

"Transformers 4 is going to be a very important film for the relationship between Hollywood and China," said Phil Contrino, chief analyst at "Paramount has cast Chinese actors in the film so there is a lot of outreach to Chinese viewers to make sure that it's not just selling a film into China."

Welburn, the design chief, worked closely with the filmmakers and has a cameo role in the movie. A GM plant was also used as a set, according to LeeAnne Stables, president of Paramount consumer products and executive of worldwide marketing partnerships.

The relationship saw GM push to get its new Trax SUV, which went on sale in China this year, in the movie along with the Sonic small car. The Trax is an important introduction for GM in China, where the brand has fallen behind in the small SUV segment.

The automaker and its joint-venture partners reported overall sales gains of 11 percent to 3.16 million in China last year. GM sold 809,918 Buicks in China in 2013 while its Wuling truck brand delivered 1.48 million vehicles domestically.


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