GM Makes the Right Move With Opel
Europe still criticial to the American company's comeback
GM came this close to offloading Opel to Magna, the Canadian auto supplier. But that shortsighted plan was born of necessity, when GM was still staring over the precipice at bankruptcy or outright dissolution. Now GM will hold tight to Opel and try, in the words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, to “make it work.”
Opel remains the best possible relief for GM’s Achilles’ heel, its inability to produce world-class small cars. The upcoming Chevy Cruze, the company’s latest and perhaps last-ditch shot, is based on the Opel Astra, which has been well-received in Europe. If GM has any hope of a turnaround, it rests in part on the smaller cars that will play a critical role in an era of higher fuel prices and tougher emissions rules.
Moving up to midsize, the handsome Opel Insignia sedan was recently voted European Car of the Year, topping anything from Volkswagen, Renault, Mercedes or any other brand. That Insignia has already spawned a Buick LaCrosse -- an international effort among GM studios in China, Germany and the U.S. -- that’s the best-looking and most credible Buick sedan in years. Late next year, Buick will revive the Regal name with another sedan based on, you guessed it, the Opel.
When GM euthanized Saturn earlier this year, the brand ironically had the most impressive lineup in its brief history, nearly all spawned from Opel products: the Aura sedan, Vue sport-utility and Sky convertible. Certainly, those Saturn-branded Opels weren’t selling; but it wasn’t because they were bad cars -- it was because few people would venture into Saturn stores to give them a look. The Saturn brand name had been fatally compromised.
For GM, being a strong global player, including in the hyper-competitive European market, remains its biggest competitive advantage. Don’t forget that GM still sells roughly as many cars around the world as Toyota.
Opel still has a tough road ahead, just like GM’s American brands. But in this increasingly connected world, buyers from Paris to Peoria are increasingly wanting the same things from their cars.
Without a strong European presence, German engineering and a hands-on feel for that market, creating those global cars would have been that much harder for GM.
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