By on October 26, 2012

General Motors is so desperate to find new customers for Opel cars that they’re introducing the brand to Australia, where it’s set to butt heads against Holden – Australia’s long-time favorite car brand.

To be fair, the Commodore is no longer the king of Australian car sales. Imported cars like the Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and even the HiLux have knocked the big rear-drive sedan off of its perch, but according to Car and Driver, 1 in 8 cars sold Down Under are Holdens.

In recent years, Holden’s smaller passenger cars have come from Korea derived models rather than European products; Holden once sold the Astra and Corsa, but today it’s the Cruze and Barina (aka Spark on our shores). And that is what GM is counting on to bring customers into Opel showrooms.

Opel’s Bill Mott told Car and Driver

“We think—and when I say ‘we’ I speak for both myself and Holden management—that our [customers are] looking for a European and, in particular, German brand experience. And [Holden], by definition, can’t cover [those customers]. Either we walk away from that market as General Motors, or we attack it. We’re bringing Opel to attack it, and we’re doing it in concert with Holden.”

Mott cites the explosive sales of German brands in Australia – which have grown 30 percent over the last decade – as evidence of the necessity of Opel. But aside from the Volkswagen Golf and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, German cars don’t rank too highly in Australian sales charts. Consumers already know the Astra as a Holden from previous years, and it’s hard to imagine that its sales as an Opel will convince them that it’s really a premium product on par with German competitors. More importantly, Opel doesn’t have anywhere near the cachet that other German nameplates do. Who does GM think they’re fooling anyways?

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37 Comments on “GM’s Opel Desperation Extends To Australia...”

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Desperate times call for desperate measures!

    • 0 avatar

      Desperate times call for foolish measures…

      Just because GM says Aussie customers are looking for a German experience doesn’t mean those customers wrote the memo from which the PR guy got his talking point rubbish…

  • avatar

    I am not sure how that will go over with the Australians… Opel make very good products so it will be a perception thing because they are fairly independent of GM. Lets face it, Europeans see Opel as part of GM and they view GM in a very dim light, hence much of their problems.
    And they are messing with Holden…
    Who knows it might work, Opel’s are better engineered than the current Holden offerings.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Gordon

      “Who knows it might work, Opel’s are better engineered than the current Holden offerings.”

      By what metric do you measure that?

      • 0 avatar

        Cultural Cringe is the usual metric Australian cars are judged by. Even if Holden made a car handed down from God, and built better than perfect, most Australians would still say that it’s shoddy, poorly thought through, and that it is was designed by some other people, anyway, and that everything out of Europe is better.

  • avatar

    Given that they will offer existing Opel (Vauxhall, really, since they’ll be RHD!) models through the existing Holden dealer network, it seems like a pretty good risk: not much investment, and potential for at least some incremental revenues.

  • avatar

    Damn, that pic is the current Opel? The greenhouse is identical to my old Catera. I thought that the GM cannibal marketing mavens had been banished with the death of Olds and Pontiac, etc.Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  • avatar

    This is not as easy as it first seems. Even though they have access to RHD vehicles through Vauxhall, there are quite a number of country specific safety standards they will need to meet to export to Oz. It mainly small stuff like specific types child seat mounts etc but it significantly adds to the cost and complexity of exporting cars to a market of only 20 million people.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like a non-tariff barrier!

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Gordon

      “there are quite a number of country specific safety standards they will need to meet to export to Oz.”

      Not really, the Australian vehicle standards the ‘ADRs’ are to all intents and purposes aligned with the European ECE’s these days.

      • 0 avatar

        Australia’s child seat restraints were unique until recently.

      • 0 avatar

        Child restrain anchorage is really the only one, and thats pretty easy to retro fit. I think I have 3 spare anchor plates and bolt sets.
        Otherwise EU harmonisation all the way.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        “Australia’s child seat restraints were unique until recently.”

        The top tether requirements were technically unique in that the anchor position relative to seat centreline is more stringent in the ADRs than in the ECE rules. Practically though, most ECE vehicles comply with the ADR requirement.

  • avatar

    It may be considered an act of desperation because the European market is so bad.

    But it’s a stroke of genius to introduce Opel (why not Vauxhall instead — at least it has a history down under?) to markets that were closed to it previously. Sets things up nicely for a spinoff and/or just grabs a few badly-needed sales here and there.

    And Opel is not trying to hide the fact that the Astra was a Holden. In fact, they are marketing the car to those who miss it from the Holden lineup.

  • avatar

    It sure looks like they’re trying everything they can think of to save Opel, doesn’t it?

  • avatar

    I don’t buy the argument.

    Opel cars are better built and better finished than Chevrolet international offerings. In fact, in the past decade Opel projects became too expensive for GM to sell in some markets. They are more expensive to produce than the korean ones.

    There is room for Opel to go slightly upmarket. It’s only a matter of promoting the brand the right way. In most markets outsite NA Opel might even have better brand image than Cadillac or Buick, for example.

    Let’s not forget that Infinity and Lexus didn’t even exist 30 years ago. Even Hyundai is going upmarket these days. And Opel does have a decent heritage to showcase. With the right cars and the right strategies, GM could make it work.

    Not that I think GM won’t screw it up. Just saying it is possible.

    • 0 avatar

      “Opel cars are better built and better finished than Chevrolet international offerings.”

      According to the UK JD Power survey, Vauxhalls (Opels) range from being average at best, to the bottom of the pile at worst.

      The lesson to be learned from the rest of the Germans: If you’re going to make an unreliable car, then at least have the decency to make it enjoyable to drive and to give it some cachet value.

  • avatar

    Opel coming to Australia has been planned for something like a year now. Why is todays news different?

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    ahh guys!!! the Holden Commodore, Holdens biggest selling car for 30 years is in fact an Opel based design, from the old Opel commodore of the late 1970’s ,widened and improved . And the latest versions are far better engineered than anything Opel ever offered with Massive brakes,LS7 power,multispeed trans in auto or manual and all sorts of luxury options. The many and varied police departments across your country are importing them for use as police cars. LHD versions of holdens have always been built for export to Asia and the middle east where they have strong following.
    We view the offering of Opel down here as curious…especially considering most people thought Astras were rubbish.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Gordon

      “ahh guys!!! the Holden Commodore, Holdens biggest selling car for 30 years is in fact an Opel based design, from the old Opel commodore of the late 1970′s ,widened and improved . ”

      Absolute poppycock. The VE Commodore has no significant commonality with any Opel product past or present. The VT and the derivative VX,VY, VU and VZ were related to the Opel Omega, but they have long since gone from production.

  • avatar

    GM has been trying to push Opel and Vauxhall slightly upmarket in Europe to make room for Chevrolet (same as VAG’s doing with Volkswagen and Skoda), so I guess this is just exporting that same strategy to Oz. Always risky when you try to take a familiar, mainstream brand and suddenly decide to start telling consumers that it’s actually premium, other than VW (to a limited extent), can’t really think of any major brand that did that switch successfully.

    • 0 avatar

      If, and it’s a big if, Opel survives as part of GM you could see a three tier strategy around the world to compete with VW Group. Chevrolet and Holden as the value brand (competing with Skoda); Opel, Vauxhall and Buick as the premium brand (competing with VW) and Cadillac as the Luxury brand (competing with Audi). I appreciate there are quite a few holes in this idea. I’m in Australia and yes Opel is trying to take on VW whilst Holden battles with Toyota, Mazda et al. GM did look at introding Cadillac to Oz in 2009 but it was scrapped due to the GFC. I also think Cad didn’t have a good enough product range then but that seems to be improving, so by 2018 when the Commodore and Caprice go out of production there will be room for Cadillac.

  • avatar

    Long time reader from Australia, first time contributor.

    Just in regards to Opel, the brand has been on sale here Down Under since 1st September. Opel has been set up as a separate entity with their own dealer network. They have launched with four models – the Corsa, Astra, Astra GTC and Insignia. The starting prices for each model are higher than the equivilant Holden product, obviously as Opel is being marketed as a premium product to take on VW.

    Most of the advertising has been focussed on Astra and how it is not new to Australia. The Corsa name is new to Australia, but previous generations of the car were sold as the Holden Barina until around 2005. The Vectra was also sold here but I understand the Vectra name has now been discontinued and the Insignia is effectively it’s replacement.

  • avatar

    Opel opened about a month ago just a few blocks from my place, so I had a look. They are going to fail. The cars are nice, but new Hyundai nice, and are not priced as well. The styling is euro-bland and faintly dated. They do not have the slightly premium feel of VW products and frankly if your main selling point is “Look, Astra!!” you have screwed the pooch.This all has an arrogant detachment from reality that I have not seen since the launch of the BMW era Rovers here. They seem to think they are upmarket cars, when they are just Kia competitors (but not quite as nice).

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    Robbing Peter to pay Paul normally just leaves Peter mad as fire and Paul unappreciative at best. But then, it is GM.

  • avatar

    Blimey mate long way off to sail Opels. Oz is hardly a hungry market is it? NZ is hobbit economy.

  • avatar

    Great article Derek!

    Living in Australia I wrote a couple of posts about the launch of Opel that may be of interest:

    Also I interviewed Bill Mott at the Sydney Motor Show a week ago:

    Lastly Opel’s first month of sales was September and they sold 100 Astras, 44 Insignias and 30 Corsas, the detail is here:

    • 0 avatar

      Good article, but the snark in the title is IMHO unneccessary.
      I think this a low cost test strategy for GM and readers should recognise it for what it is, rather than an expensive GM stuff up. (Unlike the aborted launch of Caddy in Australia)
      GM gets to test Opel brand in a mature market, which has huge badge snobbery for Europe brands, and yes I think consumers have a fondness for the old Astra, Corsa, & Vectra/Insignia.
      They were not planning to sell Opel through normal Holden dealers, so it will interesting how much cross shopping of Delta, & Epsilon platform will occur. Note I have not checked which dealers will be selling, I am only referencing articles on this.

      My personal opinion is that this a test for GM, if successful I think Opel will head to Japan & Korea, to target mature markets, and try to establish Opel as a Global VW competitor, and make GME happy to suck up salary cuts…

      Oh and they are not targeting premium, pricing is quite agressive, there is not much different between Astra and Cruze, especially when you put the same powertrain in both..

      • 0 avatar

        GM screwed up the Cadillac launch big time the whole shipment went to New Zealand and sold like cold beer at a barbie along with another ship load of UK spec Caddys.GMs plan had been to price Cadillac above the Holden range big mistake for an unknown brand but at mid Holden prices they sold fast

  • avatar

    This is akin to Holden setting up shop in the US and selling Commodores, Caprices and Utes on their own. Can you see the current Opel ad in Australia and massaging it to America? “One of us went to America and left , we missed it so much it’s come back and brought the rest of the family” Would you buy a Holden Commodore SS, sold by a Holden dealer, based on the memories of the Pontiac G8? For a premium.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know about that – Holden selling RWD sedans, coupes and wagons. Chevrolet selling BOF SUVs and trucks with occasional special GMC versions. Let Opel sell the FWD/auto/MT/turbo sporty cars hopefully including wagons, coupes, five door sedans and 4-dr sedans. Make sure all of the Opels get over 30 MPG. That mix sounds pretty good to me. A few of the current US models might be redundant at that point but who care. Let those models fade away.

      Sell Daewoo off or merge their capabilities with Opel or Holden. Let Caddy and Corvette remain unchanged. I have little interest in either. Vauxhall would continue to be tweaked Opel.

      Move as much of the production for the North American products to North American factories. Share design work. Spend alot of time spending managers, engineers and stylists to each of the different divisions for several years so they all learn whatever they can from the other divisions.

      Above all – quality and durability. When I watch my friends and family having trouble with their GM’s and my bread and butter Honda just keeps on going past 241K miles – I’m not very motivated to buy the brand no matter how much Gm says their products are “like a rock” and no matter how much flag waving is done on behalf of the brand.

  • avatar

    How big is the Australian (and New Zealand) car market? If you’re looking to move Opel volume outside of Europe, wouldn’t it make sense to go where this is even possible?

    I’m not up on the auto markets in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, but wouldn’t a play to sell the ‘larger’ (by local standards) Opels there as luxury cars and the smaller Opels (such as Adam) to the masses. Create inroads as a German brand in reach of the average buyer and not only by the elite in those countries.

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