Autofield Blog

A Word About GM Keeping Opel


By:

5. November 2009

Good.

It’s a good thing. A very good thing, indeed.

And lest we start sounding like Martha Stewart here, an explanation.

Via a metaphor.

Earlier in the year, General Motors was like a ship taking on water. And in frantic efforts to lighten the ship, management started throwing ballast overboard. This took a variety of forms, people, factories, brands.

But when you’re in a desperate situation, when the ship is going down, you don’t throw off the life jackets.

And that’s what Opel is: a life jacket.

A company not a brand

Getting rid of Pontiac, Saturn, etc. is not in the same league as putting Opel on the block. They are brands. Troubled brands, at best, for most. (There are those of us who may have strong feelings about them, but there are far more people who don’t, which led to the low sales, and the unsustainability.) But the way GM was structured, there was no separate design, engineering, and manufacturing (post-plastic bodies in Spring Hill) dedicated to them.

Opel is a company. There is design, engineering and manufacturing.

Now, Europe, like the rest of the world, has had decreased vehicle sales due to the global recession. But the European market is growing, particularly as the economies in the eastern European countries develop. It may not be as explosive as in, say China and India, but it is growing. It is hard to imagine a “global” automobile company that doesn’t have a significant presence on the continent.

More importantly—and more germane to the situation of GM in the U.S.—is the fact that Opel has superb engineering, the likes of which GM could ill afford have going to other companies, as would have been the case had the sale to Magna and Sberbank gone through.

Consider the new Buick LaCrosse that GM is, rightly, chuffed about. The underpinnings of that vehicle were developed in Europe. And that is the case for another of the vehicles that GM is correctly proud of, the Chevy Malibu. (The Pontiac G6 and the Saturn Aura have fundamentally the same platform as the Malibu, but that’s more an issue of marketing and support rather than engineering.)

62 mpg

Opel has been working extensively not only on future technologies like fuel cells, but has solid credentials in diesels. Next year it will be rolling out with the Corsa ecoFLEX diesel, which needs just 3.7 liters of fuel—or 0.97 gallons—to go 100 km, or 62 miles. Think of it: 62 mpg for a car that’s engineered to travel on the Autobahn.

Giving up Opel would have been a tremendous mistake. This move is the best thing to have been decided by GM management in a long, long time.

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