Little Or No Corrective Action

Earlier this year PSA purchased Opel from General Motors. We discussed how long it would take for Opel´s identity to fade away. Sooner than even I expected.

2017 Opel range, expected mortality:

“Peter Fintl is the director of technology and innovation at the German subsidiary of the French development services provider Altran, which works closely with PSA. He has a precise understanding of PSA’s technology strategy.

“PSA doesn’t need Opel’s conventional technology,” Fintl said. “Since both manufacturers are active in the same class, it is likely that the Opel platforms will be gradually decommissioned and PSA technologies introduced.” (Automotive News)  This is excellent timing: “Opel has just invested 210 million euros in a new development and test center for engines and transmissions in Ruesselsheim. The center, which went into operation last October, employs 800 engineers.”

2016 Opel Corsa: source

As it stands, it seems like the remains of Opel’s identity which has really become more distinct in the last ten years, should be pretty much extinguished in the course of about five years. It might be pointed out that Citroens don’t look like Peugeots so why can’t Opels look distinct too? Are they? I was at PSA showroom recently and what struck me was that there was nothing fundamental to the cars that would make me want any of them. It was like standing in a white goods showroom.

As a form of faint praise I did note the C4 has quite distinctive seating – quite simple and square. And that’s it. As I have said, Opels are different from PSA cars because someone else created them. With shared architecture and engines, the Opel marque will allow PSA to offer three ranges of not very different cars. It shows, for me, that while styling can help sell a car, you can’t pretend it is enough.

1978 Opel Senator: source

Among my collection of old car magazines, I have a Giant Test of the 1978 Opel Senator 3.0, the Mercedes 280SE  and BMW 730. Car may have been stretching the point a little, but it remained that the Senator acquitted itself rather well against the far pricier BMW and Mercedes. It was remember, a Rekord with a longer nose and tail. Car called the Opel’s performance “formidable” and said the car remained stable up to its top speed. “Seated at ease in a car that performs and handles as well this adds up to driver appeal of the sort that rarely encountered in a big saloon.”

When was the last time anyone tried to match an Opel against a 5 or an A6? Or an Astra against a low end 3-series?  So, here we are a long time later, with Opel never quite able to shake of their image problems and subsumed into a corporation with a well documented history of treating its adopted children like an anaconda treats a goat. Citroen, Talbot, Chrysler…

“Do the much-respected Mercedes-Benz 280 SE and BMW 730 have anything to fear from the svelte new Opel Senator 3.0? You bet they do”. That was November 1978.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

21 thoughts on “Little Or No Corrective Action”

  1. The one car of bunch that is unique to PSA is the new Ampera so what is its destiny?
    Hopefully the Ampera will be promoted in Germany and the UK if management has any forsight.

    1. It is. Officially, it’ll only be available through leasing. Unofficially, neither GM, nor Tavares want it to be brought to market as an Opel, which is bound to disappoint all those who placed an order already (which, reportedly, is a surprisingly sizeable number of customers, thanks to the diesel scandal).

  2. The big problem for Michael Lohscheller and Carlos Tavares is going to be defining what Opel’s identity should be.

    In the sixties until well into the nineties, Opel design was an enclave of German rationality in a world of GM transatlantic stylistic imperialism. More importantly, “an Opel approach” was shorthand for thorough, ingenious and effective conventional engineering, particularly in the area of chassis design.

    By the ’70s Opel was providing the patterns for GM’s A to D segment cars globally. The engineering competence largely remained, but the identity was diluted as the cars had to act out new roles as Vauxhalls, Holdens, Chevrolets, Buicks, and Saturns and Vauxhalls.

    Further erosion came with co-option of Isuzus, Suzukis, Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Lotuses, Renaults and Fiats to the nameplate.

    The result is a product range bereft of a distinct identity, none of which presents a compelling case to buy in preference to equivalent VAG, Ford or PSA products.

    Perhaps, far from Opel’s mitteleuropäische heartland, I’m oblivious to certain subtleties, but can anyone tell me – in its current state – what Opel is for?

    1. That question assumes customers are interested in what a brand is for. They aren’t really. They want a well-priced, useful, durable product. What are Ford or Peugeot for? The same things. They sell lots of cars.

  3. The general pattern for Ford, Peugeot, and Opel is decline in sales numbers. No doubt they will say that they are improving their “housekeeping” and putting profitability before volume. It doesn’t seem to be holding true for Opel, going by the deals on offer.

    The 2016 European car sales numbers make interesting reading:

    Ford: 1,041,431
    Opel: 984,769 (221,573 were Vauxhalls)
    Peugeot: 860,911
    Citroën: 541,047

    The decline of the established, often rather tarnished, brands is counterbalanced by the growth of manufacturers who are now seen by the buying public as makers of “well-priced, useful, durable products”:

    Hyundai: 498,386
    Kia: 430, 945
    Škoda: 654,562

    Combined Hyundai and Kia sales have passed Peugeot and are closing in on Opel and Ford.

    I’m sure this hasn’t passed Michael and Carlos by. PSA have just bought a million extra sales at a bargain price. They’ll need to be canny if they don’t squander them.

  4. I am terribly sorry but I beg to differ when it comes to Opel.
    The sooner these cars disappear from our roads the better. If there were no Opels around the average speed on our roads would improve by at least 20 percent.
    Opels are among the nastiest, blandest and most utterly unnecessary cars around. There is absolutely no reason why anybody should want to buy an Opel.
    Most Opels are rebranded somethings anyway, their best engines are Fiat-sourced Diesels and the rest is forgettable. Most Opels will benefitno end from being based on vastly superior PSA platforms.
    PSA already told the press what they see as Opel’s biggest problem. That was that Opel tried to reach VW quality levels and therefore operated at VW cost levels without having a customer base prepared to pay anything near VW prices or buy the cars in anything near VW numbers.
    Opel’s future role in the PSA conglomerate could be the one Dacia plays for Renault, selling yesterday’s goods for pocket money. That’s what Opel already did for several decades.

    One of the worst cars of the last 20 years surely must be the Opel Vectra Mk1/Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3. In typical GM fashion it used three quarters of the accelerator pedal’s travel for one third of the throttle opening, it had the built-in sneeze factor in its steering (translated by most drivers into a snooze factor) and many other things actively discouraging drivers from properly using their cars. Its bulkhead mounted steering rack moved so much in relation to the front suspension that it was impossible to hold a clean line through any curve, the rack’s movements eventually even cracked the bulkhead.
    Now tell me you feel sorry for the disappearance such cars.

    1. I take it that you’re not a big fan of the Rüsselsheim Blitz then, Dave.

      Actually, I’d agree with you if it was the Opel of the late ’90s and early ’00s we’re taking about. In those days, they did produce rather awful cars indeed, with the Sintra remaining to be among the most laughable, cynical automobiles ever to this day.

      But today’s range is actually rather decent. The Insignia’s main failing is that there’s a Skoda Superb available too. The Astra is also a genuinely decent car, and one I’d choose each and every day over a Ford Focus.

      There’s plenty of cars I’d like to disappear sooner than the most recent Opels, that’s for certain. And on top of that, I’m genuinely sorry not to see Karl-Thomas Neumann’s long-term masterplan coming into action.

  5. The last time i visited an Opel dealer, i saw some korean cars (Mokka, Karl), some italian cars (the Combo), some american cars (Insignia), some french cars (the Movano and the Crossland) and some boring german cars too – and the Opel Adam, a good car but sadly launched in a shrinking segment.

    I think, the best news for the future of Opel are the departures of Mr. Neumann and Miss Mueller. Both did not understand the automative market and that it is more important to do some boring homework first before dreaming about Opel as an electric car brand or starting senseless advertising-activities.

    Tina Mueller wanted to see Opel as a brand for affordable german cars with exciting premium design. And then they are launching the Opel Karl, stopping OPC-named cars and forgetting to add an Astra with a more sporty touch. And the new Ampera does not look like a car for the future or (at least) as a car with charisma…

    I think it is good for Opel that the more down-to-earth petrolhead Tavarez is now in command to create a more attractive model range for Opel.

    1. Regardless of the Amperas styling it will be a backward move if it is ignored in todays atmosphere where virtually all manfacturers are embracing electrification and putting a petrolhead in charge will only add to that backwardness.

  6. I think the PSA strategy of the petrolhead Tavarez ist not so stupid, if you want to become a serious contender for the market of the next decades.
    PSA has some reputation in building frugal and (relatively) clean cars. All their Diesel engines
    have an Ad-Blue-System (i think, they are the only company doing this), their daughter Faurecia has developped the filter system for modern petrol engines and they are offering the most economic cars of the market (208 and C3 HDI) etc. And PSA is not involved in the diesel scandal.
    So often customers looking for a cleaner and less thirsty car are considering to buy a car from them.

    With this image it is much more convincing to make the next step towards electric cars. Much more convincing than Opel, a brand with no reputation in this sector coming from a country with the highest prices for electricity and cheap fuel.

    PSA is doing their homework. Building clean cars today before offering electric cars for the mass market of tomorrow…
    Opel is offering less clean engines today and decorating their model range with some exotic Amperas (which they did not really want to sell in large numbers). So Opel has the reputation to regard electric cars as an small niche for tree-huggers…

  7. Today, in the odd moment of vacant pensiveness I put myself in Tavares’ place. If Opel was my ship, what would I want Opel customers to remember, which GM had told them to forget?

    Is there any value in re-stating Opel values of old in a distinctly German, but PSA based “comeback” car? There’s a danger of creating a sort of Franco-German Rover 75, but what about a new Manta? (Sooner or later the world will get sick of SUVs)

    And how about bringing back the old names, rather than the lame GM international nomenclature? The Insignia could be a Rekord, the Corsa replacement a Kadett, and the next Astra an Olympia. We might even see more differentiation for Vauxhall – the UK is Opel’s biggest market. I’m not suggesting bringing back the Victor and Velox names, but why not get some of the less mainstream Peugeot, Citroen, and DS products badged-up and into big Vauxhall dealer network?

    Opel’s got to find its way back, and part of the solution is using the new armoury, and doing things in ways which would have been unthinkable under the dead hand of GM.

  8. In response to Dave: the 1995 Vectra was 22 years ago and since then every successor car has been a competent, quality product. What is worth pointing out is that the 1995 car did precisely what that market sector demanded. With hindsight I judge it to be a professionally resolved design too. More interesting is why Vauxhall/Opel can’t shake the preconceptions regularly repeated. One thing they should do and are doing is to improve the quality and, yes, they can’t yet expect VW prices but the alternative is to shift perceptions without changing the goods; that can’t work.
    Markus: is it cheeky to say at least GM localised their products? If you go into a BMW dealer you’ll see the same stuff sold everywhere else. I am quite sure Ruesselsheim had the most input to the Insignia since for Buick it’s probably not that important a car.
    I’d hope (against the odds) Opel can be turned further in the direction of the feel and style of ye olde Mercedes. All the recent Opels I’ve steered have been exceedingly pleasant cars. None of its competitors are bad but they aren’t the same. It’s a qualitative difference.

    1. The Vectra A’s successor, if anything, was even worse. It was badly made, corroded in no time and was of dubious realiability. The Vectra C was the car of which Bob Lutz said that looking at it he could understand why potential customers didn’t feel the instant wish to buy it.

      Whys should anybody want an Opel?
      You want German industrial design – look at VW.
      Yout want sensible shoes motoring at affordable prices – get yourself a Skoda.
      You want exaggerated styling – look at Ford, they even have an Aston Martin grille for you at no extra cost.
      You want attractive prices – look at Kia or Hyundai.
      You want a cheap car – buy a Dacia

      Where in this row would you place Opel when even its new French masters struggle to find a niche for themselves?

    2. Bob Lutz really had no business ripping up his own firm’s product.
      I have to ask where in VW there resides more German ID than in an Opel. There’s less content in a Skoda; Ford’s styling is a good case against them, sad to say. Kia Hyundai are a strong problem for all the European-based mid-range marques, not just Opel.

    3. At leat there’s more VW in a VW than there’s Opel in an Opel.
      In addition, I’ve never heard Skoda owners complaining about the VW content of their cars whereas there are many Saab owners not overly happy with Opel’s contribution to their Saapel Vectroid 900.

  9. Opel’s problem for me is essentially this. Notwithstanding that it is a predominantly German company, I really think it is generally perceived as GM’s outpost in Europe, with all of the baggage that connotes. The emphasis in this statement is on the phrase ‘GM outpost’. That is to say, Opel has a serious image problem that most every competitor doesn’t have. I don’t perceive it in the same way as most brands, even those under the umbrella of major corporations. Ford has a set of specific values and an identity that is generally understood; so, for better or worse, does VW, Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, etc, etc.


    I have honestly never known what Opel is supposed to stand for. What it DOES actually stand for in my mind is the brand adorning the dealers that a soulless, synonym-for-lowest-common-denominator multinational chooses to flog its chaff through in Europe. (And the pointless ‘distinction’ of Opel and Vauxhall only serves to reinforce this point.) In other words, for at least my lifetime, Opel (and Vauxhall) have never been strong enough as brands in their own right to overcome the baggage of their parent. Opel has had a bit of an identity crisis at various points, but what are the definitive models that come to mind? For me, I don’t think Speedster, or Senator, even Omega. I think Corsas, Astras (the dull ones), Vectras and Sintras. Or, to put it another way, stock lowest-common-denominator GM. I don’t think I’m alone, either.

    This probably deserves further consideration, actually. Just what it is about GM’s plethora of brands that makes it hard for them to distance themselves from their parent? Is it the shared dealer networks? Is it that the media routinely refers to GM as an entity as it would do for Ford or BMW, except that those companies also have the name on the bonnet of their output? Here in the US, GM is functionally synonymous with the company’s brands. It is arguably only Holden that has managed to shake off this tendency, and even then not entirely.

    1. I will get back to this comment in the not too distant. I think all the comments have raised good questions. I can’t argue with how Dave perceives Vauxhall: he’s not alone and I won’t say Stradale or Dave are “wrong”. I’m clearly in a weak position on this and must justify my position a bit more.

    2. Opel started to emphasise its GM links just at the time they got rid of their American styling.
      Just as the scaled down Chevy looks of the Rekord C were replaced by a clean “European” looking Rekord D this was the first Opel to wear additional GM badges and Opel dealers used GM logos the same size as the yellow Opel signs. If that wasn’t enough you could still buy an Ascona Voyage estate car with fake wood on its sides…

      Opel was a respected alternative in the Fifties and early to mid Sixties, when Mercedes was so poor they had to use the same basic body shell for their complete model range, BMW started selling the “Neue Klasse” alongside the Isetta bubble car and an Audi (72) was a combination of a leftover DKW body with a surplus Mercedes military engine. At a time when more than 40 percent of cars on German roads were VW Beetles, Opel’s Kapitän was an impressive car.

      Somehow they missed the boat truly big time and that was when competitors finally got their game together.

      Opel still offered cars with ox cart rear suspension when even Ford had IRS, they insisted on stupidly naming their cars after military ranks, it took them ages to half heartedly catch the FWD trend and they sold Mantas with matte black bonnets right into the Eighties.
      Small wonder they faded into the background.
      Rapidly changing US managers for whom Opel was no more than the necessary evil of a European station in their US career didn’t particularly help, either. Guys like Louis Hughes couldn’t be bothered with understanding European market requirements and the cars suffered accordingly.

  10. My impression of Opel is slightly different. At the tail end of the 1980s, it was Opel who offered the more contemporary, aspirational range of cars. The aero look Omega A and Vectra A were highly competitive cars back then. And they did have a character of of their own, which was far advanced compared to the prim offerings that came from Wolfsburg at the time. VWs were therefore cars for people who wanted to play it safe, no matter what, whereas Opels were considered the more modern, style-conscious alternative. And sales figures reflected that.

    After 20 years in crisis, it’s easy to dismiss the Opel brand. But we shouldn’t be unreasonably scathing in our assessment.

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