It was a spring morning in 2017 at 75 avenue de la grande Armée in Paris. That day, Carlos Tavares president of PSA is alongside 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 is no more, 75 avenue de la Grande Armée is deserted, and Opel is today one of the twenty brands of the Stellantis galaxy.
In half a decade, the German may have become less Germanic, but his image has been profoundly and positively modified, and three quarters of his 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 which, at the time of the balance sheet, literally sucked up the profits when the lights were 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 good for sale.
Of course, Europeans continued to buy Opel (or Vauxhall in England) even during the darkest years, but for more pragmatic than emotional reasons, with notable exceptions such as the Calbrathe GT or the Tigra. The other models? They were pretty solid and pretty cheap. And too bad if they were far too heavy and equipped with motors with average performance, above-average vibrations and far-beyond-average sound.
Then came the time when the overlord PSA, then Stellantis ordered his German vassal to use the organs of the group. And everything changed. A maneuver which, moreover, began before the takeover since the first Opel Grandland X and Crossland X were already Peugeot 3008 and 2008 first generation. After the takeover, all the other cars in the range went under the same regime. The Corsa (derived from Peugeot 208) opened the renaissance ball, followed by the mocha (a Germanic 2008) from theastra (cousin of the 308) this year, in sedan and station wagon versions.
A Volkswagen and Skoda-style positioning
A rather successful make-up since Opel has grabbed 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 fall is less pronounced than for other manufacturers. The reason for this success, although not spectacular, may be due to the brand’s current positioning. A positioning, and a separation of customers between Peugeot and Opel, ultimately close to that which differentiates Volkswagen and Skoda. At VW and the lion, the almost premium, which will delight fans of technology (and for Peugeot, aficionados of assertive design) and at Skoda as well as at Opel, a more traditional clientele, who are looking for a good car, a just a little less expensive and not too extravagant.
This clientele, a little older than that of Peugeot, also appreciates a dashboard and a more classic 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 counters 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 by 2035, but the German will have to anticipate the call and switch by 2028. 6 years to turn everything upside down is not much. The road is already traced, at least we know the first contours.
The next Crossland, which lands in 2024, will be fully electric, as will the future Insigniathe sedan now thermal and at the end of its life, which will arrive in 2026. A large electric SUV called Manta, named after a rather mythical coupe at Opel will also be there that year. All that remains is to convert the high-volume Opel Astra and Corsa to watts, as well as the small Mokka SUV.
As we can see, Opel has been assigned the pioneering role at Stellantis in terms of total electrification, since most of the group’s other brands are rather announcing a switchover by 2030. And it is precisely this pioneering role that raises question. As we have said, the German does not really have the reputation of a tech-savvy brand and seems to have, with Citroën, one of the oldest customers in the group.
Why then do you want to make it the house pioneer of electricity? Perhaps Stellantis marketing departments have studies showing that people in their fifties and sixties are more fans of new technologies than younger generations? Unless the same services are content to consider (rightly) only the oldest clientele, and also those with the highest purchasing power. And electric cars being more expensive than thermal ones, CQFD.