As­tra to lose the Holden lion

Paul Gover in Detroit re­ports on Opel’s big plan

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Onroad -

ACAR called As­tra will be back in Aus­tralian show­rooms early in 2012, but it won’t be a Holden.

In­stead, the long-run­ning red lion favourite will carry Opel badges as the Ger­man brand in­cludes Aus­tralia in its world­wide push for ex­tra sales.

Opel in­tends to be­come a global brand, not just an­other lo­cal arm of the Gen­eral Mo­tors’ em­pire, and will hit Aus­tralia with the As­tra, and maybe the Corsa and In­signia.

It is aim­ing up­scale and, al­though it will get back-room sup­port from Fish­er­mans Bend, it in­tends to op­er­ate as a sep­a­rate brand to Holden and a ri­val to Volk­swa­gen.

Some Holden deal­ers will get the fran­chise, but noth­ing is set yet.

‘‘There is def­i­nitely room for Gen­eral Mo­tors to have two in­tel­li­gently po­si­tioned brands in Aus­tralia,’’ the head of Opel, Nick Reilly, says.

‘‘We’re not try­ing to beat the main- stream brands. Our time is just at the right time.

‘‘We will po­si­tion our­selves where Volk­swa­gen was. We’re not go­ing to be stupid about this. This is not just an Aus­tralian play.’’

Plans for an Opel push have been bub­bling in Europe for close to a year and Reilly says Holden is now be­ing tapped for lo­cal ex­per­tise.

But Holden — with a small-car fu­ture tied to pro­duc­tion from Dae­woo in South Korea, to­gether with lo­cal tweak­ing — is not a ma­jor stake­holder and will step back once cars are ready for sale.

‘‘We do not see Holden as a com­peti­tor at all. Holden is our play in Aus­tralia and will be for­ever,’’ Reilly says.

Opel be­lieves it has a win­ner in the As­tra, which will mar­ket a small fam­ily of cars in­clud­ing a coupe, with sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial in other mod­els.

It also has the award-win­ning Corsa baby car and mid-sized In­signia in its line-up, al­though they are not con­firmed for Aus­tralia.

‘‘ We’re go­ing to an­nounce our prod­uct port­fo­lio later in the year,’’ Reilly says.

He con­firms a sales tar­get of around 5000 ve­hi­cles when the first cars ar­rive, ris­ing to around 12-15,000 in­side five years.

The Aus­tralian plan is likely to in­clude en­gi­neer­ing in­put from Holden, which did a lot of tweak­ing on the As­tra and mid-sized Vectra be­fore they be­came too costly for lo­cal cus­tomers and the em­pha­sis switched to South Korea. But it will not be re­liant on Holden. ‘‘We in­sisted it should be con­sid­ered as a sep­a­rate busi­ness,’’ Reilly says.

Opel’s ex­pan­sion will also take it to Is­rael and then to China — the biggest of the 12 tar­gets in its ex­port plan.

Go­ing up­mar­ket: the Opel As­tra Sport Tourer. Opel plans to com­pete with Volk­swa­gen in Aus­tralia.

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