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Holden nameplates to return? Who's in line to nab GMH's Astra supplier and emerging electric car superstar, Opel, now that it's hot property in Europe, UK and (soon) NZ

Under Peugeot stewardship, Opel has blossomed into a vibrant brand with striking, electrified models like the Astra and Mokka.

Opel is suddenly hot property and here's why.

Nine years on from being unceremoniously dumped in Australia by Holden after just 12 months on the market, and long-since forgotten by most consumers, Opel is now looming as a potential prize package for importers.

Enjoying considerable success as both an electric vehicle (EV) sales powerhouse and top-10 chart-topper in Europe and the United Kingdom, the ex-General Motors brand and now Stellantis rising star is growing on the strength of the dramatically redesigned and newly-electrified Corsa supermini, Mokka small SUV, Astra small car and Grandland medium SUV.

With the Corsa (wearing Vauxhall branding) finally breaking Ford’s 50-year streak as the maker of the UK’s best-selling car last year (and likely to be on top again in 2022), Opel is finally being taken seriously and now under assessment for a return to Australia.

This comes after Opel has embarked on a right-hand-drive market push, including in South Africa last year and – from this July – in New Zealand with eight dealer locations already announced.

But the question is: when will the same happen in Australia and who will it be – the Stellantis entity Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia that already is responsible for Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Chrysler, Jeep and other marques, or an independent importer who sees Opel as a fresh fit for a market embracing electrification at an increasing rate?

While no organisation has yet publicly declared their interest in bringing the German brand back, speculation has been running hot since Stellantis announced Opel's New Zealand return.

FCA Australia managing director, Kevin Flynn, told CarsGuide at this month’s Jeep Grand Cherokee L launch that his organisation is taking a ‘watch-and-see’ approach before deciding whether or not to reintroduce Opel to Australia.

“We think with the advancements there in electrification and the (New Zealand) government policies and so forth, that’s probably the best place to go,” he said. 

“I think that’s where we’ll focus, and we’ll learn, and then we’ll see.”

That “we’ll see” almost certainly refers to a changing political attitude towards EVs in Australia as public interest swells in the face of rocketing fuel prices leading up to the federal election later this month. This may lead to more positive policies and meaningful support for EVs and related infrastructure in Australia.

It’s Opel reinvention as a youthful, dynamic brand embracing electrification that’s underpinning its remarkable resurgence abroad. 

The latest Corsa F, Mokka B and the Astra L (the letters denoting the number of generations there have been) are already there, while by 2024 the rest of the Opel range – including the coming Grandland B and Insignia successor (the former Holden ZB Commodore) – will follow suit. By 2028, Opel in Europe will be 100 per cent battery EV.

But with FCA Australia already not alone in importing Stellantis vehicles into this country, other entities may be circling as possible contenders.

Though Subaru is by far its largest automotive asset from a volume perspective, Inchcape Australia Limited (IAL) has possessed the Peugeot and Citroen franchises since 2017.

However, IAL corporate affairs and public relations manager, Chloe Fraser, stated that the focus is centred on boosting the other brands in Australia, with “…nothing on the cards for us (concerning Opel)”, so that’s a no go for now.

Another prospect for Opel’s return could be the Ateco Group, which holds the rights for the Stellantis brands RAM and Maserati.

“While nothing is happening now, everything is on the table,” according to spokesperson Oliver Peagam, referring to the company’s track record of successfully launching and establishing brands through its business of selling vehicles wholesale to dealers.

Ateco helped the fledgling Kia gain momentum from the 1990s until sales were healthy enough for the factory to take over in 2006. More recently, it also defied convention by adding Renault as an already-established brand after factory distribution ceased early last year, with sales doubling in Australia since then.

Opel, of course, already has a long history with Australia, though most of it has been as either the engineering basis for Holdens, beginning with the TX Gemini (1975), VB Commodore (1978) and JB Camira (1982), or the supplier of scores of Holden-badged models starting with the SB Barina (1994), TR Astra (1996) and JR Vectra (1997) series.

Though under General Motors ownership since 1931, it wasn’t until August 1, 2012 that Opel launched in Australia as a stand-alone brand, ostensibly with Holden’s support but in reality, forced upon it by an indifferent Detroit, even against rigid opposition within the corridors of Fishermans Bend.

With the Opel Astra and Insignia especially competing against the Adelaide-made Cruze and VE/VF Commodore of the time, Opel was seen as an unnecessary inhouse competitor and financial burden during a period of dramatic sales decline.

Some 366 days later, after barely breaching 1500 sales nationally, GM pulled the plug on Opel in Australia; later in 2013, Holden followed Ford in announcing its coming exit from local manufacturing; in early 2017, after 18 years of staggering losses, Opel (with Vauxhall) was sold to Groupe PSA (Peugeot Citroen); and by the end of 2020, Holden ceased to exist.

Opel's turnaround since Groupe PSA's acquisition then has been remarkable, bolstering its financial power in time for the merger with the American Chrysler and Italian Fiat groups, to form Stellantis in 2021.

Opel is on a roll. Will a sequel in Australia as the vibrant electrified brand and defacto successor to Holden be what buyers are waiting for? 

Tell us in the comments below, because you can count on executives from Stellantis, IAL, Ateco and elsewhere will be keen to know what you think.

Byron Mathioudakis
Contributing Journalist
Byron started his motoring journalism career when he joined John Mellor in 1997 before becoming a freelance motoring writer two years later. He wrote for several motoring publications and was ABC Youth radio Triple J's "all things automotive" correspondent from 2001 to 2003. He rejoined John Mellor in early 2003 and has been with GoAutoMedia as a senior product and industry journalist ever since. With an eye for detail and a vast knowledge base of both new and used cars Byron lives and breathes motoring. His encyclopedic knowledge of cars was acquired from childhood by reading just about every issue of every car magazine ever to hit a newsstand in Australia. The child Byron was the consummate car spotter, devoured and collected anything written about cars that he could lay his hands on and by nine had driven more imaginary miles at the wheel of the family Ford Falcon in the driveway at home than many people drive in a lifetime. The teenage Byron filled in the agonising years leading up to getting his driver's license by reading the words of the leading motoring editors of the country and learning what they look for in a car and how to write it. In short, Byron loves cars and knows pretty much all there is to know about every vehicle released during his lifetime as well as most of the ones that were around before then.
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