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Opel’s Aussie blitz

European appeal: Opel will use its German engineering heritage to attract buyers to its line-up in Australia.

GM’s German brand set to use Astra legacy to advantage as it stakes a claim in Oz

31 Jul 2012

OPEL will use the public’s huge residual awareness of the Astra small car nameplate in Australia and its German engineering heritage to help establish a foothold against established importers, particularly fellow German marque Volkswagen.

Previously sold in Australia under Holden badges, the Astra is expected to be Opel’s top seller when General Motors’ European division goes it alone as an “aspirational yet accessible” car brand in Australia through a 17-dealer network from September 1.

The dealerships will be dressed in the latest Opel global corporate identification signage and decor, becoming the first network in the world to fully adopt the revised scheme that only now is being applied to German dealerships.

Volkswagen will head the hit list of rival marques targeted by Opel, which has been established in Australia in a matter of just 10 months, thanks to backroom support of fellow GM subsidiary Holden.

Opel cars were previously sold under Holden badges in Australia, helping to provide a legacy that Opel will attempt to mine to advantage.

 center imageFrom top: Opel Australia's Bill Mott Opel Corsa Astra hatch Insignia Sports Tourer Mokka SUV.

Opel Australia managing director Bill Mott told Australian motoring media this week that his task to establish the brand in Australia would have been considerably harder without the legacy of Astra, which was discontinued locally when Holden switched to the cheaper, Chev-based Cruze in 2009.

“Astra has always been an Opel, and Astra is back,” he said.

Mr Mott said that, even though it had been four years since Astra was last sold in Australia, a brand awareness study by Roy Morgan had revealed the nameplate to be the third most recognisable small-car nameplate in the country.

Opel will open business with three model lines – the Astra small car and wagon, the Corsa light hatchback that was once sold in Australian as the Holden Barina, and the mid-size Insignia – the latter being the successor to the Vectra that was also a Holden until a few years ago.

With Holden now firmly aligned with the mainstream Chevrolet brand in GM’s universe, Opel will attempt to use its European cache to carve a niche with cars carrying its own thunderbolt badge – known as ‘the Blitz’ – and take on European brands such as VW, Peugeot, Citroen, Skoda and Renault, as well as high-end Japanese brands such as Honda, Mazda and Subaru.

Announcing pricing and launch specifications for the new range this week, Mr Mott said that of all those brands, Volkswagen was considered the main rival.

Mr Mott said Opel’s products were “absolutely on par” with VW’s, with Opel products scoring points on styling, innovation and value.

“I believe we stand absolutely eye to eye with VW,” he said.

Initially at least, Opel’s range will be tiny compared with the sprawling line-up offered by VW, which has been one of the fastest-growing car companies in Australia over the past several years.

Mr Mott said Opel Australia planned to focus on the three biggest passenger car segments in Australia – small, light and medium – before expanding its range over time.

He indicated the upcoming Opel Mokka compact SUV – a version of which will also be sold as the Holden Trax in Australia and Buick Encore in the United States – would be on the wishlist of vehicles for local sale, adding the fast-growing compact SUV segment to its coverage.

With the Mokka due to be released in Europe late this year, it could feasibly be on sale in Australia by the middle of next year.

Opel’s planned all-new convertible is also on the agenda as a halo product, and that might be out and about in Europe within six months.

For now, Opel Australia will use its three-door Astra GTC hatch as an image leader, becoming one of a dwindling number of companies to market a small and sporty three-door hatchback, and the only one in the small-car class under $30,000.

The Opel range will start with the 1.4-litre Corsa three-door hatch in the middle of the light car brigade at $16,490, with Astra starting at $23,990 for the five-door hatch, followed by the three-door Astra GTC at $28,990.

The flagship Insignia – available in sedan and Sports Tourer wagon body styles – will kick off at $38,490 for the base petrol sedan, with a $2000 premium for the wagon.

The Insignia will be launched with a pair of 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engines in diesel and petrol, although there is a chance that the hot Insignia OPC with its Holden-made 239kW turbo 2.8-litre V6 will add some spice to the range at a later point.

OPC variants are also available in Europe in the Corsa and Astra ranges, but Mr Mott said he had not been told yet if these models would be made available to Australia.

Asked if Opel’s parlous financial state in Europe would deter buyers in Australia, Mott said Opel had the support of a profitable GM, which had made it clear that its European arm was not for sale.

“Opel is simply too fundamental to GM,” he said.

Mr Mott said Opel had struck problems because it was too reliant on the European market, which had fallen on hard times, and did not have the positive exposure to markets such as China that some of its rivals enjoyed.

He said Opel had set about addressing that by widening its footprint to countries such as Australia.

All of the Opel dealerships appointed to date are in metropolitan areas across the five states and the ACT, with Victoria getting the most – five – including four in Melbourne and one in Geelong.

A further seven dealerships are being sought in major regional areas of Queensland and New South Wales, all of which are expected to be up and running in the first half of 2013.

Establishing the initial dealer network will be done in something of a rush, with signage and other appointments demanded under the new corporate identification rules only arriving at the various sites a couple of weeks ahead of the scheduled September 1 opening.

Mr Mott said some dealerships might not have completed their fit-out by the start of sales and marketing operations, but they would still sell cars.

The first major batch of vehicles is also expected to arrive in mid-August from Opel plants in Germany, Poland and Spain.

Opel will use its German slogan ‘Wir Leben Autos’ (we live cars) on all of its advertisements to help show off the company’s German origins.

As well, two billboard concepts shown in the Opel presentation even used German language.

Mr Mott said the German background of Opel was a positive for the brand in Australia, where German cars were regarded as high quality, and the company planned to use the positive sentiment towards German cars to its advantage.

In Australia, sales of German cars have risen 62 per cent since 2010, with VW rocketing 306 per cent.

Mr Mott declined to outline a sales target for Opel in Australia, despite a senior executive of the company in Germany last year saying the figure was 15,000 units a year.

He said that might happen in time, but the focus was on establishing the brand first.

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