Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wouldn't You Really Rather Have an Opel?

In my earlier commentary on GM's sale of Opel and Vauxhall to Peugeot, I noted that many of the rebadged Opels sold in America in the 1990s were seen as lackluster by consumers in the States.
But what of some of the more recent Opel cars rebadged for sale in the U.S.?  Specifically, what of all those interesting cars at your neighborhood Buick dealership?
Buick and Opel have a history dating back to 1958, when the porthole division began selling Opel cars in America as captive imports.  Cars like the Kadett, the Manta and two-seat Opel GT weren't exactly big hits, but they had cult followings in this country - especially the GT, the Corvette-style look of which more than compensated for its Karmann Ghia-like performance.  Indeed, the connection between the two brands is so great that when GM brought  a sedan over to the U.S. from its Japanese subsidiary Isuzu, it sold it as the Buick/Opel, even though it was neither.
Opel, in fact, has been instrumental in giving Buick a sense of credibility it hasn't had since the original Riviera coupe debuted in 1963.  The current Buick Regal, which debuted in 2010 to considerable acclaim, is a Canadian-built version of the Opel Insignia, while the Buick Cascada convertible (below), which has received mixed reviews, is an Opel made in Germany, the real thing.
And watch out for the all-new Regal debuting at the New York Auto Show in April - it will be based on the all-new Opel Insignia (below).  This car may also be built in Germany.
And this time, a version of the Opel Insignia Sports Tourer wagon (below) may also be included in the new Regal's lineup.
And by the way, the compact Buick Encore SUV is based on Opel's Mokka model.  Opel's engineering and technology have also made their way into other Buicks, including the Michigan-built entry-level Verano, now its in last year and based on the same platform used by the Opel Astra and the Chevrolet Cruze. 
How will Opel continue to supply Buick with cars and components when it will be under the ownership of Peugeot, which is still not back in the U.S. market?  That's covered - for now.  The GM/Peugeot deal in the Opel/Vauxhall sale continues existing supply arrangements for Buick, as well as for GM's Holden brand in Australia, at least for the next six years, which is approximately how long the current generations of Opels should be in production.  But as current Opel models are phased out, and as future Opels are developed on Peugeot platforms, the future for Buick looks problematic.  As Kyle Campbell noted in the New York Daily News, sales of Opel-based Buicks accounted for almost two-thirds of the brand's sales in February 2017, and losing the Opel influence in future products once the current generation of cars is gone might be hard for Buick to overcome.  And at least one option being considered - outsourcing engineering from GM affiliates in China -  isn't exactly an idea that will make the American road that belongs to Buick great again. 
These are classy cars, though, and they're responsible for jettisoning Buick's stodgy image while maintaining its reputation for understatement.  And even though Opel is seen as a middlebrow car back in Germany, its higher-end models have been more successful in America than its volume car, the Astra, which was briefly sold as a Saturn in America just before that brand bit the dust.  There was a bitter irony to the Astra's brief availability in America; though GM created Saturn to show that it could build a good small car for the masses in its home market, Saturn's homegrown Ion, a successor to the original Saturn sedan of the early 1990s, was replaced by a Belgian-built Opel that turned out not to have any mass appeal in the States.  The recent collaborations between Buick have borne better fruit of late for GM, giving Buick a good deal of respectability and, more importantly, good sales.  It's also made Opel more important to the American market as a product development partner for Buick than it could ever be as a stand-alone brand here.  But without Opel, how will Buick fare then?
A spokesman for Buick told the press that the division "will continue to deliver our product plans with excellence and precision," and that can mean a lot of things.  But, as Kyle Campbell wrote, it should mean that GM should look at the automotive trends in Europe and learn from them, even if GM itself will largely become absent from the European market, if it wants to continue Buick's  resurgence.  "Though General Motors will no longer have a foothold in Europe," Campbell says, "that doesn’t mean it can simply ignore the continent. Moving forward, it must keep a watchful eye on the trends that arise in Germany, France and the U.K., because, as history shows, it’s only a matter of time before they crop up here as well."
And outsourcing from China simply won't cut it.

No comments: