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Opel eyes Aussie market

Nick Reilly (pictured) has big plans for Opel, which was originally scheduled for sale as part of the GM bankruptcy proceedings in the USA.

Opel is hoping to fill some of the vacant ground left by GM's sale of Saab and has publicly named Australia as one of its targets.  The Opel-built Calibra coupe, as well as the family-style Vectra and Astra, were sold here before GM Holden turned its small-car focus on Korea and the products being produced by Daewoo.

The latest Barina, Viva, Cruze and Captiva all have their roots in Korea, although there is growing tweaking by engineers and designers at Fishermans Bend.  Holden is mostly noncommittal about the plan but Opel boss Nick Reilly - who, ironically, once led the GM team at Daewoo - is bullish.

"Opel is an icon of German engineering. For markets such as China, Australia and South Africa, Opel can be a premium brand. We’ve got great, award-winning cars," Reilly tells Stern magazine in Germany.  The strategy is to rather focus on China, Australia and South Africa."

Reilly has big plans for Opel, which was originally scheduled for sale as part of the GM bankruptcy proceedings in the USA. It survived the threat and is now intended to spearhead a prestige push while GM uses Chevrolet as its global value brand.

"We have to be able to compete with Volkswagen; if possible, we should have an even stronger brand. And in Germany we should be able to charge higher prices than the French or Koreans," Reilly says.  "But we will not attempt to copy BMW, Mercedes or Audi."

There are strong ties between Opel and Holden which go back to the 1970s. The original VB Commodore of 1978 was an Opel design, although the car's body was stretched for family work down under.  But Holden is not a supporter of the Opel push - at least, not yet.

"From our end there are no plans to reintroduce Opel-sourced product into the Holden line-up," says spokesperson Emily Perry.  "Australia is one of the new potential export markets they are looking at. We're obviously working with them as they evaluate this market, but we've got nothing more to say."

The last remaining Opel product in the Holden catalogue is the Combo van. Sales this year have just topped 300 vehicles, with 63 delivered in June.  The Astra convertible, which is discontinued, has also contributed 19 Opel-sourced sales through the first half of 2010.

Paul Gover is a former CarsGuide contributor. During decades of experience as a motoring journalist, he has acted as chief reporter of News Corp Australia. Paul is an all-round automotive...
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