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Opel firms 2012 Oz launch line-up

Seeing red: The Opel Astra GTC was revealed for the first time in final production guise at last week’s Frankfurt motor show.

GTC Coupe could top Corsa, Astra and Insignia in Opel Australia’s launch line-up

19 Sep 2011

AUSTRALIANS may not have to wait long for Opel to add some sizzle to the steak that will underpin its inaugural model range Down Under in a little over a year from now.

The mainstream German brand has confirmed its Australian launch line-up will comprise the light-sized Corsa, Astra small car and Insignia mid-sizer, but the sleek Astra GTC Coupe could also be part of the range that will debut at the 2012 Australian International Motor Show in Sydney next October.

Revealed for the first time in final production guise at last week’s Frankfurt motor show, the three-door Astra GTC will go on sale in Europe in November and is officially under consideration “for the next phase of the Opel roll-out in Australia”.

However, GoAuto understands Opel Australia managing director Bill Mott will lobby his German colleagues for supplies of the image-leading sports model as soon as possible.

Like the latest five-door Astra hatchback on which it is based, the GTC will be available in Europe with three turbocharged petrol engines – 88kW and 103kW 1.4-litre and 132kW 1.6-litre – and three turbo-diesels: 81kW and 96kW 1.7-litre and 121kW 2.0-litre, with standard idle-stop reducing CO2 emissions to 109g/km.

Although the hottest 132kW turbo-petrol model does not deliver as much performance as its most direct rival, Volkswagen’s 155kW Golf GTI, Opel has confirmed it will release a range-topping version in Europe next year under its OPC (Opel Performance Center) brand.

This could upstage both the GTI and R versions of the Golf as well as VW’s upcoming Scirocco R coupe.

Latest European reports suggest the successor to the Astra OPC Coupe (sold here as the HSV VXR) could channel as much as 300hp (224kW) through its front wheels via a new limited-slip differential, eclipsing the front-drive Golf GTI and AWD Golf R (188kW), as well as the front-drive Scirocco R and new Focus ST (184kW), which both go on sale here next year.

Next year’s Astra GTC OPC was previewed by last year’s piping-hot GTC Paris concept, which was powered by a 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine with standard idle-stop.

Expect it to join Opel’s Australian line-up by mid-2013 as the headline act of an OPC range that will open with the Corsa OPC hot-hatch and close with the Insignia OPC, which was benchmarked against the Audi S6.

Further afield, Australians are almost certain to have access to Opel’s first premium small car, the all-new ‘Junior’ that will hit Europe in early 2013.

52 center imageOpels from top: Insignia, Astra, Corsa and Meriva.

Rather than being positioned below the Corsa, on which its is based, the Junior will be a dedicated three-door hatch measuring 3.7 metres long to compete directly with luxury compacts like the Mini, Audi A1, Citroen DS3 and Fiat 500.

Also due to appear in 2013 is a replacement for the Astra Convertible, which will be followed by a still-secret sports coupe from GM’s European affiliate.

“We’re going to have a convertible and this junior vehicle that we’ve been referring to,” said Opel vice-president of design Mark Adams.

“This is not going to be a bargain-basement box on wheels – this is going to have all of the attributes and exude all of the qualities of our other cars.” Mr Mott said Opel would cover 70 per cent of Australia’s passenger car market with the Corsa, Astra and Insignia, but could not hide his enthusiasm for the compact Meriva people-mover, for which he was European marketing manager in his previous role at Opel HQ in Germany.

“We haven’t confirmed the Meriva for Australia,” Mr Mott told selected Australian media in Germany over the weekend.

“We recognise the segment is virtually non-existent in Australia. We have to do a lot of analysis to ensure this would find its niche and we’d be able to make a case for the Meriva.

“That said, it’s an incredibly successful product here in Europe. It’s by far the number one in its segment, it outsells its nearest competitor by two to one and we think it’s a great brand statement that says volumes about the innovation and flexibility of the brand.” Mr Mott indicated the GTC and Junior were more likely to be sold in Australia than the larger seven-seat Zafira, which made its global debut alongside the GTC at Frankfurt last week.

“I would say Junior is one of the cars we’re considering,” he said. “GTC is not confirmed but I believe there’s significant potential and we’ll look at it closely.

“Zafira and GTC are just two of the 30 new products we will release by the end of 2014 and we will choose many of them as part of our long-term sales objectives in the Australian market.” Opel’s Australian launch line-up will open with the Corsa, the latest generation of which was introduced in Europe in 2006 before being facelifted earlier this year.

Like the latest VW Polo (priced from $16,690) at which it will be targeted, the Corsa will be offered here in both three and five-door body styles, powered initially by a naturally aspirated 1.4-litre petrol engine matched with five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions.

Previous SB and XC generations of the Corsa were sold here as the Holden Barina between April 1994 and February 2005, before the Opel-sourced light car was replaced by the Daewoo Kalos-based Barina in December 2005. The best sales year for Holden’s Opel-based Barina was 2002, when more than 9000 examples were sold.

“In Australia, the previous Corsa was one of the most popular and respected small cars,” said Mr Mott. “It’s a car with great pedigree.

“What we need to do is find a way to tell Australians that an old friend is back, but it’s an old friend that’s back in a completely different and modern guise.

“We believe the main competitor will be the Polo and our research results give us a very optimistic view about our ability to compete with this product in the market place.” Mr Mott said the Corsa, which has averaged more than 400,000 annual sales in Europe for the past three years, would be a key model for Opel in Australia – without cannibalising sales of Holden’s new Barina, which is being launched this week.

However, Opel expects its biggest seller in Australia, with half of all sales initially, will be the Astra, a nameplate that disappeared from Holden showrooms in 2008 – the same year the latest generation emerged in Europe.

Australia’s first Astra, the TR series, was released here in August 1996 and the model achieved its highest sales year with the AH series, which attracted 34,218 buyers in 2005.

Aimed directly at VW’s Golf, both five-door hatch and Sports Tourer wagon versions of the Astra will be available, powered by the same 1.4-litre turbo-petrol and 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engines as Holden’s Cruze, as well as a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine.

“Astra is obviously an instantly recognisable nameplate here in Europe, but also in Australia,” said Mr Mott.

“As a Holden, we sold tens of thousands of Astras, so this represents some opportunities but also some challenges. There’s a large Astra following, strong recognition of the nameplate and even a fan website, but for most Australians Astra is equivalent to Holden. We need to tell them, and all Australians, very clearly that there is a new Opel brand.

“We don’t need marketing spin to do that we need to tell the truth about Astra and that is they’re great-looking, innovative German cars.

“We think Astra will be our best-selling car in Australia, as it is here in Europe. We think it will represent approximately 50 per cent of our volume and that that share will go down over time.

“Obviously the biggest and toughest competitor here will be Golf. We know that VW are chasing competitive price points, particularly at the lower end of the model range. (But) our design is much more emotional and appealing and we’re very likely to leverage that in our marketing.” Topping the Opel Australia line-up will be the VW Passat-rivalling Insignia in sedan and Sports Tourer wagon guises, powered by turbocharged direct-injection 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines with six-speed automatic transmissions.

Mr Mott stressed that Opel would not cannibalise sales of Holden models like the Barina, Astra and upcoming Malibu.

“Obviously we’re very excited about launching the brand in Australia, about growing our brand awareness, growing our model awareness and about increasing General Motors’ share in the Australian market.

“We believe absolutely that there’s room for two very different (GM) brands in the Australian market, much like we do here in Europe with Chevrolet and Opel. We believe that in Australia Opel and Holden together will increase General Motors’ share of the Australian automotive market.” Mr Mott made it clear VW was the target for Opel in Australia, where its marketing activity would focus on precision German engineering with a dose of extra emotion.

“Opel will be an aspirational brand. We believe we’ll find broad acceptance in the Australian market because Opel is all about accessible German engineering, it’s all about emotional design, the environmental responsibility and passion for innovation.

“Australia has one of the most competitive markets in the world, but if you look at the success European and specifically German brands have been able to achieve in this extremely competitive market it’s compelling.

“The growth of the total auto market was 35 per cent over the last 10 years, but if you look specifically at the premium brands, and in particular at Audi and BMW and Mercedes-Benz who dominate that segment, their growth is more than 100 per cent over that time period.

“VW in the last 10 years has grown 10 times faster than the auto market in Australia, so very clearly in Australia there’s a large group of customers who are very interested and passionate about a European driving experience, and I’d also argue a German driving experience, and that’s why I believe if we establish the brand correctly we have a very good opportunity for success.

“We’ll have cars on the ground in the second half of next year and we’ll leverage the Sydney motor show to expose them to a wider audience.” Holden and Opel share a long history. The first Opel-sourced model to be sold in Australia was the Calibra coupe in 1991 and the VE of 2006 was the first ‘ground-up’ Commodore not to be based on an Opel design.

The mid-size JR Vectra was imported from Germany from June 1997 before being assembled here from completely knocked down (CKD) kits, and then imported once again in ZC form until 2006. Opel’s Thai-built Zafira was also sold as a Holden here between 2001 and 2005, as was the German-made Tigra convertible between 2005 and 2007.

The best year for Opel-sourced model sales in Australia was 2005, when 48,845 of Holden’s total 174,464 sales were produced by the 112-year-old German car-maker, which GM purchased in 1929.

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