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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

New Astra goes on sale, 45,000 already ordered

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New Astra goes on sale, 45,000 already ordered

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DECEMBER 5, 2009 06:01 CET

FRANKFURT (Reuters) -- General Motor Co.'s new sixth-generation Opel/Vauxhall Astra five-door hatchback hit dealer showrooms in Europe on Saturday, with 45,000 units already ordered by customers since September, the company said.

The Astra is Opel's most important model and a success is critical for the long-term future of the brand. The fifth-generation of the compact contributed sales of some 438,000 cars last year or about a third of the brand's overall volume.

German car dealer Thomas Bieling, who expects to sell 1,600 new cars a year via the five sales points that comprise his Autohaus Bieling dealership, said he is offering a Christmas tree to customers who take the new Astra out for a test drive.

"The real advertising from Opel only just begun a couple of weeks ago but its now showing an effect and interest is starting to build," Bieling said. "I expect to see a real lot of people here tomorrow."

Assembled in Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port, England, plant, the 1.4-liter, 87-hp variant starts at 15,900 euros ($23,970). A comparable Volkswagen Golf, the Astra's top rival, starts at 16,650 euros.

Also on the launch list is next year's Astra Sports Tourer, a source of conflict within the company since Ruesselsheim's labor force is fighting with management over their decision to concentrate all production of the station wagon version in Ellesmere Port.

The three-door version of the Astra will be built in Gliwice, Poland, starting in 2011.

Like the larger Insignia mid-sized car, the Astra was engineered in Germany at Opel's Ruesselsheim r&d center where the entire global Delta compact car architecture for GM was developed.

Opel's engineering competence for compact and mid-sized cars was a major reason why GM scrapped plans to dispose of a majority stake in its European carmaker to Canadian supplier Magna International Inc.

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