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Opel, Chevrolet complementary brands as GM competes globally

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Opel, Chevrolet complementary brands as GM competes globally



To understand why General Motors has spent a year and a couple of billion dollars working on restructuring plans for its European Opel/Vauxhall unit, try to imagine GM without Chevrolet.

If the picture that comes to mind is of a vacant, gutted Renaissance Center, its riverfront towers pocked by broken windows, you're about right. Chevrolet is GM's best-selling brand, the engine that drives the automaker's U.S. operations, with 1.3 million sales in 2009.

Opel, too, is vital to GM.

It's GM's No. 1 brand in the important European market, with 1.2 million sales last year. That makes Opel GM's second-biggest brand worldwide by a wide margin. It exceeded Buick, Cadillac and GMC's combined U.S. sales by more than 2 1/2 -to-1 last year.

Opel is the yin to Chevy's yang. The brands are vitally complementary as GM shapes its new global strategy. Neither is complete -- or able to compete with global automakers like Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen -- without the other.

Chevrolet provides production volume, big engines, trucks and crossovers.

Opel provides volume, too, but specializes in fuel-efficient engines and midsize and compact cars. Opel engineering underpins vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu, the upcoming high-m.p.g. Chevrolet Cruze and the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car.

Opel will also set the pace for much of Buick's model line. The LaCrosse sedan uses an Opel-engineered platform, while the upcoming Regal sport sedan is a lightly restyled version of the award-winning Opel Insignia.

"GM is suboptimal without Opel," former CEO Fritz Henderson admitted over dinner last year. Despite that, Henderson was willing to surrender control of Opel. GM Chairman Ed Whitacre disagreed. That's one of the reasons Henderson lost his job, and the whole reason GM is working with governments and unions across Europe to rescue Opel.



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