With Opel planning to pull itself into the black within the year, the brand’s thoughts are turning from survival to “luxuries” like a flagship model planned for around 20k units starting in the 2016-2017 timeframe. Codenamed “TOL” for “Top Of Line,” the sedan will be designed to highlight one of GM’s many alt-drivetrain technologies, but according to Automotive News [sub], nobody yet seems sure which. Opel labor rep and recent champion of the brand’s forthcoming products Klaus Franz explains:
Already with the our Ampera electric vehicle, we have shown what we are able to do and enjoy an advantage of two to three years compared to the competition
But with the TOL is planned for 2016, Opel may have to dig deep to jump out ahead of the market, which is why a fuel cell-powered electric drivetrain is being considered (also, after decades of FCV research, GM has to build a production model someday). And if the eventual product has a truly ahead-of-its-time drivetrain, and looks as good as last year’s Flextreme Concept (above), this flagship could be an exclamation point on Opel’s turnaround. Unfortunately, neither of these things are a given…
Let’s start with the looks: according to AN [sub]:
In May, Opel CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke said the company was mulling a new flagship model that would improve the brand’s image. He told a Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper that the car would be a crossover between SUV and station wagon, with an attractive design, high functionality and premium features.
Which means the flagship could come out looking like the 2007 Flextreme concept instead of the low, sleek, coupe-ish looks of the 2010 Flextreme. Don’t the Opel boys remember what happened to Renault when it tried to build flagships in the shape of vans and station wagons? The Avantime and Vel Satis were wild and funky looking cars, but even the French understand that the luxury market is wildly conservative.
And speaking of wildly conservative, Franz’s comment that the TOL’s drivetrain would be “years” ahead of the competition should probably be taken with a grain of salt, especially in light of another comment he made:
The workers representatives will support this project to the fullest. A flagship like this can only be built on the Epsilon 2 architecture with long wheelbase. We will do everything to build this car at our headquarters in Ruesselsheim, rather than Mexico or elsewhere
An alt-drivetrain “flagship” based on a stretched version of the Epsilon II platform? Where have I heard of that before? Oh right, Cadillac’s XTS “phantom flagship,” a stretched Epsi-II sedan with a plug-in hybrid V6 drivetrain (at least eventually). But the XTS is going to market next year as a 2013 model… and if the Opel were just a re-skin of the Cadillac, there would be no reason to wait until 2016. Not only would an XTS derivative not be “years ahead of the competition” if it launched in 2016, it would be three years behind Cadillac, which (like Chevy) GM is pushing in Europe.
So, will the TOL end up an XTS rebadge or will the three extra years go into developing a legitimately unique drivetrain, possibly a fuel-cell job? It’s too early to tell yet, but one thing is certain: either way, Opel’s stretched Epsilon-II “flagship” won’t come to the US as a Buick for fear of cannibalizing the XTS. Which will just go to show that the XTS should have been born a Buick in the first place.