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Peugeot sizes up stricken ex-Opel dealers

Opportunistic: Peugeot is expanding its network to cater for new models such as the 2008 (left) and new-gen 308 (below), and a few axed Opel franchises are in its sights.

Opel's departure could be Peugeot's gain, as the latter looks to add dealers

Peugeot logo7 Aug 2013

PEUGEOT says it is actively looking at adding several disenfranchised Opel dealers to its own growing network, now that the German brand has called it quits in Australia.

Opel, the European offshoot of General Motors, last Friday announced it would exit Australia with immediate affect, after just twelve months in operation. The move left its 20 dealers with empty showrooms and largely unfulfilled investments.

But it appears Peugeot Australia is keen to help several of them, in key growth markets of Brisbane and Sydney, swap Germany for France.

The company has six new or facelifted models launching over the next 10 months, and intends to grow its network from 38 sites to 46 by mid-2014 in order to handle the extra load.

“We rang them (the Opel dealers in question) half an hour after the announcement,” said Peugeot Australia general manager Bill Gillespie, talking with GoAuto at this week’s launch of the new 208 GTi hot hatch in Queensland.

“There’s a couple in Brisbane that we’ve spoken to, had spoken to prior to the announcement - we had word that Opel was a little shaky - and then in Sydney there’s potential, we’ve already spoken to a few dealers in Sydney,” he said.

The network expansion will likely see a few more sites open in Brisbane, Sydney and regional NSW, plus an additional site in Adelaide. Perth and Melbourne will likely remain as they currently are.

Despite PSA’s well-documented financial woes in Europe - it lost around 5 billion euros last year - Mr Gillespie said the company remained committed to far-flung Australia, and convinced that new models such as the GTi and forthcoming 2008 crossover SUV would boost local sales.

“Automobiles Peugeot has never been more important to our business, it sees the Australian market as one that has real potential, albeit the competition is pretty fierce,” he said.

“Peugeot has been represented in Australia for more than 60 years now, and unlike some other manufacturers, we aim to stay and grow our sales.” The loss of Opel prompted questions about the business viability of a raft of niche European brands, including Peugeot. Australia has one of the world’s most concentrated markets, with more than 60 brands scrapping over 1.1 million sales.

As we’ve reported, brands including Infiniti, Citroen, SsangYong, Smart and Proton have all confirmed to us - either directly or through their official distributors - that they intend to stay put.

Peugeot sales are down 0.7 per cent this year so far - and would be more so if not for the Mitsubishi-based 4008 crossover, its top-seller with 697 units YTD. This time last year, Peugeot had sold only 138 units of the car, because it was launched in April 2012.

Nevetheless, things are looking up, with the new 208 GTi expected not only to add 25 per cent to current 208 volumes, but also to create an intangible boost through halo appeal.

Add to that new models such as the 2008 (October) and RCZ R (April), plus facelifted 3008 and 5008 models in early 2014. The final piece in the puzzle will be the new 308 small-car in July, a good bet to take over as its top-seller here.

Sales of the current, aging 308 are down 40 per cent this year, and a new-generation can’t come soon enough. Mr Gillespie said the new car - to debut at the Frankfurt motor show next month - would be benchmarked against the Volkswagen Golf in all areas, including price.

Don’t be surprised then if the current $22,990 starting price is cut to better match the Golf 7 (from $21,490) and Renault Megane (from $20,990).

This likelihood is increased when you consider Opel chalked up its failure here to its inability to cut the price of models such as the Astra to better match mainstream European rivals. Opel’s small-car charger kicked off at $23,990.

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