Phil Murtaugh’s appointment as Qoros CEO seems to be fitting even though it came with a little surprise.
Murtaugh knows China exceptionally well, serving first as executive vice president for Shanghai-GM and then CEO and chairman of GM China between 1977-2005. Under his leadership GM China established itself as one of China’s leading automakers. Murtaugh was also instrumental in convincing both GM and SAIC Motor to invest in Liuzhou Wuling, a mini vehicle manufacturer that eventually became one of the most successful JVs and market leader in the microvan and MPV segments. Upon resignation from GM, Murtaugh worked at SAIC Motor in charge of the state-owned company’s international business. It seems most fitting that Qoros Auto, a new Chinese company operating internationally, has chosen Murtaugh as CEO.
The appointment is somewhat surprising because of Murtaugh’s long time absence as an active player in China. None of the executive positions he took since he left GM lasted more than a year or so. After serving as executive vice president at SAIC Motor, he first took up the position as Chrysler Asia CEO and then chairman of the later bankrupt U.S. electric car maker Coda Holdings.
Qoros is counting on Murtaugh’s China and international experience to help drive up sales of Qoros cars which have been designed and produced according to international standards. Sales of Qoros have been disappointing so far, with total end-user sales of just around 5,000 in 2014, according to CBU Analytics.
Unlike his time 15 years ago at GM China, when vehicle sales took off because of explosive market demand, Murtaugh faces a much different market environment. Murtaugh knew the China of his time at GM better than many expatriates working in China. But he may not understand today’s market and consumers in China. More important, he will be managing a total different company nowhere comparable to GM, a world-class automaker. With GM, Murtaugh had vast resources at his disposal including capital, R&D and product portfolios to make him successful.
Even working with his former assistant at Shanghai-GM, sales and marketing guru Sun Xiaodong, there is hardly any guarantee that Murtaugh would be successful in elevating Qoros’ brand image and sales volume.
Murtaugh faces an even more challenging job as CEO of a brand new automaker Qoros compared to his last few positions. A local analyst sharply pointed out that the trouble for Murtaugh is that Qoros is not GM.