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Geneva: Opel ‘cleans house’ for Aussie push

Namesake: Opel Group CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann presents the all-new Karl and Viva subcompact cars at the Geneva motor show.

Holden to play significant role as Opel plans broad-scale push into export markets

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Opel logo4 Mar 2015

By TIM ROBSON in GENEVA

OPEL has revealed that it is “cleaning the house” in preparation for a significant push into export markets, particularly Australia as Holden looks primarily to General Motors’ European division for its future when local manufacturing ends in 2017.

Speaking to GoAuto overnight at the Geneva motor show, Opel board member and vice-president of communications Johan Willems said the company was making the hard decisions now in order to move forward.

Mr Willems would not be drawn on details of the forthcoming imported all-new Commodore replacement or other models beyond those already confirmed such as the soon-to-be-launched Cascada convertible, high-performance Astra and Insignia variants and, early next year, a new-generation Barina Spark (sold in Europe as the Karl and in the UK as the Viva).

However, Holden has committed to staging 24 vehicle launches over the next five years, with one third of the brand’s future models to be sourced from Europe – that is, the vast majority of Opel’s product line.

“What you are really seeing at the moment is us reflecting on how our future set-up around the world needs to be, and we are going forward on that path now,” Mr Willems said.

“In general, it’s a policy of this leadership group to clean the house, make sure we are set up for growth and where we go in the future.

“We made some decisions on Australia (to pull Opel out) some time ago, we made some on Thailand and Indonesia (plant closures and cutbacks) last week.

“You will also see some very good ones, also, where we will say, ‘We are going to go in for real’.”

As Opel launched the sub-compact Karl and its renewed Corsa light car – including a hot new OPC/VXR variant – at the Geneva motor show, General Motors announced that it was cutting back heavily on Pacific Rim production capacity – a move that looks designed to shore up its European manufacturing bases.

Plans for a new small-car plant in Thailand that may have supplied a small car to Holden have been scrapped, while a small factory in Indonesia will close its doors mid-year. Operations at GM’s Rayong plant in Thailand will also be scaled back.

Mr Willems admitted it was reasonable to suggest that the plant restructures in Thailand may mean a switch to European-sourced vehicles to fill its commitment to Holden.

“Knowing how passionate Australia is about cars, European cars surely have a role to play in that,” he said.

“We have already been on record saying that European-sourced cars will play a major role at Holden. And I’m sure Holden will play a key role in the products that are coming to Australia. I know how our product team operates and I know for a fact that there is input.”

Mr Willems said that specification discussions were ongoing.

“Take engines for example,” he said. “Holden are asking for specific things, and we are seeing what we can do to accommodate them, within the portfolio, and within what is reasonable. We won’t be successful if we don’t work together on it. It’s ridiculous to think that you can sell cars if you don’t know what the requirements for the market are.”

Mr Willems would not comment about the possibility of Opel producing either a large SUV or a light commercial vehicle that would suit the Australian market, but did point out that incoming regulations for lowering emissions will have an effect on which vehicles can be offered.

“People want SUV-type vehicles, but if you look at the fuel situation, there’s no chance in hell that people are going to be able to drive around in big SUVs with the carbon emission target of 95 grams of CO2 (per kilometre),” he said.

As for ongoing speculation that the next Holden Commodore would be based on the next-generation Insignia, he said: “I know why you ask this, but I can’t really tell you. We did the mid-life cycle enhancement last year, so you can guess the timeframe from there.”

Mr Willem emphasised that Opel’s role in producing a vehicle range for Holden would help the bottom line of GM’s European subsidiary, whose fortunes have waxed and waned over the last few years.

“It’s an extra for us, but I would not make the statement that Europe is getting healthy again because of Holden we have also announced that we are doing some Buick vehicles for the US,” he said.

“But it’s important because it will help. It’s always a good thing to have bigger volume.”

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