Dr Karl-Thomas Neumann

Dr Karl-Thomas Neumann

Opel/Vauxhall's European chief has told just-auto that it has convinced 80% of duo Opel-Chevrolet dealerships to remain 100% GM, following Chevrolet's exit from Europe.

Karl-Thomas Neumann admitted it had to offer dealerships in Europe an alternative after announcing the decision to exit Chevrolet from the market. He says that was achieved with the Karl entry level City Car model.

"The Karl was especially important because it was [part of] an exercise to exit the Chevrolet brand out of Europe and many of our dealers were duo dealers," Opel chief Karl-Thomas Neumann said.

The dealerships, to which Neumann was referring, carried both the Opel/Vauxhall and Chevrolet brands and had questioned what would be done with the space, once the other brand was wound down.

Neumann described the dilemma for them. "Do they bring a third non-GM brand in? Or would we be able to convince them that they can use this extra space and use it for Opel?"

"In these discussion it became very clear, very quickly that they need an entry level model. They needed something for the very price-conscious customers. They wanted a car very much like Chevrolet offered it, which was really versatile, had four doors but with a good entry price and I think the Karl did exactly that."

Speaking about the positioning of Opel, Neumann emphasised its mid-range credentials. "We don't want to move the brand up to become a luxury brand but we also we don't want to be known as a cheap brand. We want to sit in the middle, where the majority of the people are - in the centre of society. It's a bit timing related that we have three small cars: Adam, Corsa and the Karl. But it is really good because we have upgraded the Corsa. We can offer things people would expect in upper class but it's still affordable. Adam is our lifestyle vehicle - it's smaller than the Corsa but they buy it for the design and individualism and some of the fun features that put a smile on your face."

Despite the decision having ramifications for employees of the Chevrolet brand, Neumann remains positive. "We are very clear about the direction and the technology bit of it and the history part of it is exciting and so we're really betting on design and features which people wouldn't expect."

When asked whether Opel has any intentions to create more large cars for Europe, Neumann is dismissive. "I get this question very often... but the market for these very larger cars, beyond the Insignia, is extremely small and the odds are very much dominated by the brands we all know. It's a more conservative set of customers - it will be very difficult to convince them that an Opel is the right car for them, so there will be some [who'd buy a bigger Opel] but it [the market] will be very very small."

Nonetheless, the future looks bright for General Motors in Europe, Neumann believes, and he is excited by the design of the next Insignia and the rollout of the next Astra.

"I believe the next Insignia will be so stunning, in terms of design. The most important thing I'm focussing on now is the Astra, because we're launching the Astra this year. Astra really needs a renewal. We know we have some issues with weight and we needed to make it a lighter Astra. The engines, which will come in the Astra, you can already see because we remade our entire portfolio. We have some really competitive engines now."

He also said that a new car is coming for the Russelsheim plant. "I'm not telling a secret when I say that we want to build another [vehicle] for Opel in Russelsheim, which is a car for the second half of this decade. It will also be a brand shaper but it will not be larger."