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Opel models for Australia

The company unveiled the Zafira concept at the Geneva motor show.

The prestige GM Europe brand looks set to debut late next year as it talks about product for that timeframe, trailing off as the subject of Australian export timeframes for upcoming models is raised.

Opel vice president for business and product planning Frank Weber won't commit to anything hitting our shores beyond the three-pronged debut with Corsa, Astra and Insignia.

"The only thing I can say is that we will start Australia with Corsa, Astra and Insignia, beyond that what we add depends on how it is developing and relative to the Holden portfolio," he says.

Anyone who bought a Holden small car before Korean vehicle sourcing took hold might be tempted, with the Corsa's ancestors imported here as the Holden Barina.  The Astra's sales credentials in Australia are strong, but the Insignia and anything to follow are the unknown quantities.

The company unveiled the Zafira concept at the Geneva motor show - a car that has a brief Australian history as a Holden - but that, Meriva, Agila and any plans for a pair of small SUVs are all listed as under consideration.

"All are under study, because it only makes sense to come to the market with a certain portfolio size and where you also different from what Holden has," he says.  Despite talking of avoiding conflict with the Holden range, there's a potential clash in the small SUV segment looming.

Opel plans for its compact SUV strategy involve the Opel version of the Captiva, called Antara.  There's also plans for a second - smaller - SUV that might appear at the Frankfurt motor show prior to a 2012 production debut.

"The small SUV has a lot of potential in a lot of markets, many people still like and are interested in SUVs, robust and high seating, but now it has to be socially compatible as well."

"We will have an Antara successor and a car that is smaller than that, dedicated SUV but they will have efficiency and car-like behaviour, the Opel Antara is currently Korean built but the replacement is yet to be decided," he says.

Mr Weber says Opel was watching developments in the Australian market, which he suggested has an interesting mix, tending towards larger cars but with a European influence and growth in the smaller segments that could fit Opel's plans.

"In Europe there is a (small car) market developing looking for style and individualisation, we're talking about a new project called "Junior", a city car."

Mr Weber says the four-million-plus unit European small segment - which includes models like the Polo and Fiesta - is developing a need for vehicles with more character.

"Something different, younger, more character, stylish with a robust driving behaviour, short but not narrow.  It's next to Corsa, under four metres, a foot shorter than Corsa - Junior is a four-seater, based on the Corsa platform and will also bring in an electric-only battery version, built in Germany and will be in RHD," he says.

"It is a very different, attractive car - we have added three cars to the portfolio that are image-enhancing and emotional, Junior is one of those cars - Opel character, young and different, with volume potential but an image generator as well," he says.

Other vehicles that Mr Weber outlined - but stopped of short of confirming for arrival in Australia - include a production version of the Astra GTC show car from Paris Motor Show and a four-seater convertible to replace the Astra droptop, which could be linked to the rumoured return of the Calibra coupe.

"When you look at the emotional products, there's also emotion attached to four-seater coupe like the Calibra, a car like this could make sense, we are studying it.  I think coupes and convertibles are always a bit connected, aren't they? Theoretically, because of the dramatic rooflines there's a natural connection," he says.

While the brand has history in Europe there's little in the way of brand awareness for Opel in Australia, but suggestions of a handicap on that front are brushed aside by Mr Weber, as is the need for any localisation tuning of Opel product.

Mr Weber also joined the list of car company executives firing barbs at the Australian authorities over range-extender and battery-electric cars, infrastructure and subsidies in relation to the Opel Ampera's chances of joining the Australian line-up.

"Australia is one of those undecided markets for electric cars, I have not seen signals of extreme or very serious support.  You need clear signals for your planning horizons - US, Canada, UK, France, Netherlands, Denmark - that there is clear support to establish an electric market in a country," he says.

Mr Weber believes there is room in the Australian market for Opel and Holden, although using a comparison with petulant toddler sibling rivalry to illustrate some of the concerns that Holden may have had over the Opel plans.

"All of our product decisions are made at a global level, not Opel versus Holden, the GM portfolio decisions are made at a global level - Holden is represented at global product decision meetings," he says.

"When you look at market and volume potential, there is room I think in Australia for something beyond Holden."

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