Série d’été – Comment va … Opel

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It was a spring morning in 2017 at 75 Avenue de la Grande Armée in Paris. That day, Carlos Tavares, president of PSA, is together with Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, owner of Opel. The two bosses shake hands and sign a bundle of documents. In less than an hour, the German brand becomes French. Five years later, PSA no longer exists, 75 avenue de la Grande Armée is deserted and Opel is today one of the twenty brands in the Stellantis galaxy.

In half a decade, the German may have become less Germanic, but its image has changed profoundly and positively, and three-quarters of its cars have been renewed. Because let’s remember what Opel represented in the era of General Motors, which owned the brand for 88 years. A group that, at the time of balance, literally absorbed the benefits when the traffic light was green. Thus, for more than a decade, the German lost money, at least in accounting terms. But when GM went bankrupt in 2009, the German subsidiary was only for sale.

The restyled Opel Grandland and its famous closed Vizor grille is a wiser Peugeot 3008.

Of course, Europeans continued to buy Opels (or Vauxhalls in England) even during the darkest years, but for more pragmatic than emotional reasons, with notable exceptions like the Calbra, GT and Tigra. The other models? They were pretty solid and pretty cheap. And too bad if they were too heavy and equipped with engines with average performance, above-average vibrations and a well above-average sound.

Then came the time when the PSA overlord, then Stellantis, ordered his German vassal to use the group’s organs. And everything changed. A maneuver that also began before the takeover bid since the first Opel Grandland X and Crossland X were already the first generation Peugeot 3008 and 2008. After the acquisition, all the other cars in the range went to the same scheme. The Corsa (derived from the Peugeot 208) opened the renaissance ball, followed by the Mokka (a 2008 German) from the Astra (cousin of the 308) this year, in sedan and station wagon versions.

Positioning in the style of Volkswagen and Skoda

Quite a successful makeover as Opel has gained market share in Europe. They now stand at 2.6% for France and have been rising since last year, while sales are falling. But the drop is less pronounced than for other manufacturers. The reason for this success, although not spectacular, may be due to the current positioning of the brand. A positioning, and a separation of customers between Peugeot and Opel, ultimately close to what differentiates Volkswagen and Skoda. In VW and the lion, the almost premium, which will delight fans of technology (and for Peugeot, fans of assertive design) and in both Skoda and Opel, a more traditional clientele, looking for a good car, a little less expensive and not too extravagant.

the interior of the Opel Astra, without the Peugeot i-cockpit.
the interior of the Opel Astra, without the Peugeot i-cockpit.

This clientele, slightly older than that of Peugeot, also appreciates a more classic dashboard and driving position. In short, and to caricature, a buyer who would like to buy a Peugeot, but without the i-cockpit, without the tiny flat steering wheel and without the unreadable meters if it is too big, will drive an Opel.

Still, this clever positioning could well change. Because the decision was made last year: Opel will become an all-electric brand. This is certainly the fate reserved for all manufacturers for 2035, but the German will have to anticipate the call and change for 2028. 6 years to turn everything upside down is not long. The path is already traced, at least we know the first contours.

The next Crossland, which arrives in 2024, will be fully electric, like the future Insignia, the saloon already heated and at the end of its useful life, which will arrive in 2026. A large electric SUV called Manta, baptized with the name of a rather mythical coupe at Opel will also be that year. All that remains is to convert the high-volume Opel Astra and Corsa to watts, as well as the small Mokka SUV.

a first sketch of the future electric Manta SUV.
a first sketch of the future electric Manta SUV.

On him voit, Opel s’est vu assigner le rôle précurseur chez Stellantis en matière d’électrification totale, puisque la plupart des autres marques du groupe annoncent plutôt une bascule à l’horizon 2030. Et c’est justement ce rôle précurseur qui pose Question. As we’ve said, the German doesn’t really have the reputation of a tech-savvy brand and seems to have, with Citroën, one of the group’s oldest customers.

Why then do you want to make it the pioneer house of electricity? Perhaps the Stellantis marketing departments have studies showing that people in their 50s and 60s are more fans of new technology than the younger generation? Unless the same services are content to consider (rightly) only the oldest clientele, and also those with the highest purchasing power. And being electric cars more expensive than thermal ones, CQFD.

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