Blue skies ahead?

Blue skies ahead?

Following the announcement of the PACE! business plan for Opel-Vauxhall by its CEO Michael Lohscheller, just-auto takes a look at what this means for the brands' current and future models.

The low hanging fruit

Top of the list of unprofitable models is the Cascada. By no means a bad car, it is more a case with this large convertible of wondering what on earth the product planners were thinking by recommending its development. Remember that this project was being developed as GM was beginning to recover from bankruptcy and cash was tight.

A replacement for the even then old Antara would have been a far better idea, and it's unfathomable why a successor for this SUV wasn't a priority. After all, Opel and Vauxhall saw the opportunity in B-SUVs with the Mokka way before its rivals. VW is still developing the T-Cross, and this won't come to market until 2018, some six years after the little Opel/Vauxhall's market launch.

The Cascada (Opel Cabrio in Spain) is built in Poland and PSA now has GM as its customer, as the car is exported to North America with Buick badges. It's unlikely to make it to the end of 2018, as sales have always been minimal for all three remaining brands, with Holden's version having been discontinued earlier in 2017.

Following the end of the VXR8 sedan and Maloo pick-up, Vauxhall has no models which do not also wear Opel badges, but the lightning logo brand has a couple of cars which have never been Vauxhalls. Will these survive? The Combo Tour is a people carrier version of the aged Combo van, which is supplied by FCA's Turkish JV with Koc. A successor is under development by PSA and due out in 2018.

The next generation Combo is part of a project which will also see replacements for the Citroën Berlingo/Berlingo Multispace and Peugeot Partner going on sale next year. All will be manufactured at Vigo on a PSA architecture. Fully electric variants are expected too.

Another model which has no Vauxhall equivalent is the Ampera-e. There was no specific mention of it in the PACE! announcement but it seems unlikely that it will survive. This issues are a lack of right-hand drive build, and it is yet to perform well in the handful of LHD markets where it is offered. PSA also seems especially keen on phasing out as much GM technology as quickly as possible, so an imported Chevy Bolt with a few changes to its looks simply doesn't fit. The final nail in the Ampera-e's coffin is the announcement that there will be a Corsa EV in 2019. Why have two battery-electric B segment hatchbacks?

The old-shape Astra sedan is still available as an Opel in LHD (European continent) and RHD (Ireland) markets but there was never a Vauxhall version. It's almost at the end of its life cycle so production will likely be would down by mid-2018. The same fate awaits the Opel GTC and Vauxhall GTC, the renamed three-door versions of the former Astra. Groupe PSA will no doubt quietly kill off the OPC and VXR sub-brands too. Already, GSi has been revived for both brands' fastest Insignia so expect to see that label also return to the Corsa and Astra ranges, and possibly the Adam line-up too.

The Zafira is also in phase-out mode, having been in production since the end of 2011. It will likely continue until 2019 but might instead be axed in 2018. The successor model is the Grandland X (see below): Opel and Vauxhall correctly saw that crossovers and SUVs would take over from C and D segment MPVs.

A segment

Will Opel/Vauxhall exit the A segment? It's a possibility, as the Karl and Viva are imports from GM Korea. These cars are only two years old, with a facelift due in 2019. Their lifecycles should end in 2022. At that point, new models might well become part of the TME-PSA joint venture which builds the Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108 at Kolin. The Czech plant would probably have to undergo a capacity expansion for that to happen though. And is there enough volume in this segment for PSA to offer three models? If Opel and Vauxhall are to stay in the A segment, something like India and Brazil's Renault Kwid, a small SUV, would surely make more sense.

B segment

The majority of Opel's volume is presently in the B segment but the trick here will be making the next Corsa a profitable car.

Production is due to commence in the fourth quarter of 2019 and build will be at Figuerelas (Zaragoza). There had been fears by German unions that Eisenach, which produces certain versions of the current Corsa, might be closed before this car goes into production. The German plant, which also builds the Adam, was thought to be potentially losing production of the next Corsa. Following the announcement of PACE!, which specifically mentions a new vehicle for Eisenach, this factory appears to be safe.

One of the big changes for the future Corsa will be the switch from aged GM-Fiat SCCS platform to PSA's CMP architecture.

What of the Adam? This small car was meant to gradually become a Mini rival but this hasn't happened. It has been hampered from the start by a limited range of powertrains and the would-be crossover derivative, the Adam Rocks, hasn't caught on either. If there is to be an Adam 2, it will be based on CMP, manufactured at Eisenach and launched in 2020.

C segment

The Astra is a car which deserves to sell in far higher volumes than it does, especially in the UK. There will likely be an early facelift for this model, which means 2018, and then a successor in 2021. Will it again be built in England? That's the big question, with Ellesmere Port seemingly the most likely of Opel and Vauxhall's factories to be at risk of closure.

Just a few weeks ago, Vauxhall Motors told the media that it would be asking for 400 voluntary redundancies from workers at the current model's lead plant, Ellesmere Port. That will take the site down to one shift from two and this is the only vehicle made there.

It could be that Ellesmere Port is closed and that all build of the next Astra takes place at Gliwice. The Polish plant is the second location for production of the existing Astra. Opel will have to make a decision over the future Astra in 2018 if it still intends to replace the car in 2021. With the architecture becoming PSA's EMP2, major spending will need to take place to refit one or both of the former GM plants.

D/E segment

There isn't much that PSA can do about the second generation Insignia, which is still in the ramp-up phase, with several variants being added at present. If the car's life cycle is seven years, that means it will remain with its Opel architecture and powertrains until 2024. Complicating matters is the fact that Rüesselsheim is about to start making closely related cars for GM Holden, which join the Buick Regal. If this arrangement continues to be a source of profit for Opel, then it might be that the Insignia, Commodore and Regal remain in production for many years yet, possibly also retaining their Opel engines and gearboxes. 

Under a different scenario, the latest Insignia might be replaced well before it had been scheduled to under GM Europe management. Groupe PSA is said to be keen to phase out GM legacy architectures as soon as it can so that payments for the licensing of the IP can stop. It is therefore possible that a new Insignia is already being worked on. So as to save time, this might well have much in common with the Dongfeng Aeolus Fengshen A6 and/or Citroen C6, two big sedans which are built by Dongfeng Motor and Groupe PSA in China. These use PSA's EMP2 architecture. What would become of the Holden Commodore and Buick Regal is not clear, although in theory, GM could source these cars from a Chinese plant.

SUVs

The brands' smallest crossover, the 4,212mm long Crossland X, is already on a PSA architecture. In contrast to some rivals in the B segment, it cannot be ordered with all-wheel drive, nor can its PSA twin, the Citroen C3 Aircross. Both are built at Zaragoza (Figuerelas). An Opel team in Rüsselsheim led the engineering execution of this joint project. Groupe PSA supplies powertrains for all applications.

The Spanish plant which builds the Crossland X has a capacity of close to half a million vehicles but has been operating quite a way below that. PSA and Opel want to see production rising to between 400,000 and 450,000 units per annum from 2018.

Many wonder why Opel and Vauxhall need two B-SUVs. The thinking is that the Crossland X competes with those rivals which are mainly about offering a low price and front-wheel drive, while the slightly larger Mokka X delivers better returns and also offers AWD derivatives. Whatever the theory, in practice, the Mokka has been an enormous hit for both Opel and Vauxhall, with the facelifted and renamed Mokka X aiming to keep up most of its sales momentum. Can it do that? No, which is for a variety of reasons: its age and the fact that there are now so many other choices for buyers in this segment.

The good news for Opel and Vauxhall is that a replacement is coming as soon as 2019. It will be manufactured at Eisenach, probably from the third or fourth quarter of that year. The current model is made at Figuerelas near Zaragoza in Spain's north east. The German factory, which is one of two plants which make the current Corsa, gains the Mokka X as the next Corsa will be single-sourced out of Figuerelas.

Mokka X generation 2 will use PSA powertrains and is presumably the SUV which Opel now says will built at Eisenach on the EMP2 architecture. The model's dimensions will likely grow, given how close the current one is to the Crossland X.

In the C-SUV class, Opel/Vauxhall has the new Grandland X. This is the replacement for the Antara, even though the latter will have been out of production for some eighteen months by the time the successor goes on sale.

The Grandland X will also eventually serve as the Zafira Tourer replacement even though that model should remain in production for a little while yet. The public debut was at the Frankfurt IAA in September with the vehicle on track to arrive in Opel and Vauxhall showrooms during the first quarter of 2018. Production is about to commence at PSA's Sochaux plant in France. Expect a facelift in the third quarter of 2021 and a successor in early 2025.

One model which had been in doubt ahead of the PACE! plan's announcement was the so-called 'Monza X', which is what some expect a new D segment model to be called. This vehicle, which is presumed to be an SUV, has been talked about for many years, and it had been thought for a time that the project was shelved.

As long ago as May 2011, the then head of Opel-Vauxhall, Karl-Friedrich Stracke, revealed plans for a new model due around 2015 or 2016. To sit in the Opel (and, presumably, Vauxhall) model range(s) above the Insignia, the extra vehicle would logically be, it was imagined, a version of the Buick Enclave. This would give GM's two European markets main brands something with which to challenge the VW Touareg replacement, as well as the Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe.

In March 2014, Stracke's successor K T Neumann, told the media in an issued release that an additional Opel-Vauxhall model as well as a Buick for export to North America would be built at Rüsselsheim. "Due to competitive reasons, details about this car will not be announced until the end of the year", Opel's statement added. There was a little bit more information in November 2014, which is when Neumann and GM's CEO Mary Barra announced the future production of "an SUV" at Ruesselsheim. This would be Opel and Vauxhall's "co-flagship with the Insignia", the media was informed.

Then, according to a statement by Opel on 6 April this year, "a large SUV will be produced in Rüsselsheim as of the end of the decade". There may even be plans to spin off up to three variants for DS, Peugeot and/or Citroën. Whether or not GM's Holden division will also gain this vehicle remains unknown. The architecture will be EMP2. The wording of today's statement by Opel is interesting, though. It mentions a D segment model, not specifically a D-SUV. Could it be that something similar to the former Volkswagen CC is planned? That could certainly explain why no four-door version of the Insignia was developed.

As for when production of the Monza X will commence, it could well be in late 2019, although 2020 might be a better bet. So much of the delay is to do with the project having been restarted using the PSA platform, whereas earlier planning was based around the GM Epsilon architecture as used by the Insignia.

If the D segment model for Rüsselsheim turns out not to be an SUV, then this would explain the stories which have surfaced of a supposed additional SUV for the Rennes-la-Jannais plant. This would reportedly be around the same size as the Peugeot 5008 and Citroen C5 Aircross. Opel teased an image of a new model during the media briefing for PACE! and it might be that this was the D-SUV. It can be thought of a seven-seat Ford Edge and Skoda Kodiaq competitor.

MPVs

The future Opel Combo Tour due in 2018 was noted above, as was the phase out of the Zafira Tourer, while production of the Meriva ceased in March. This leaves Opel and even more so Vauxhall, very lean when it comes to MPVs. That's a good thing, given how sales of such models in all segments have been. Both brands have one larger model, and this is a fresh design.

The Opel Vivaro Tourer and Combi+ are the passenger versions of the Vivaro van, which is part of a light commercials JV with Renault-Nissan and FCA. These were revealed at the Frankfurt IAA in September, as was the Vivaro Life. Vauxhall's equivalents are the Tourer Elite and Combi Plus as well as the Tourer Weekender.

The Renault versions are all badged Trafic SpaceClass. All of the vehicles are rivals for the Mercedes-Benz V-Class/Metris/Valente, VW Caravelle & Shuttle, Peugeot Traveller, Citroen SpaceTourer, Toyota Proace Verso and others in what is obviously a crowded class. As transaction prices can be high, it's more than worth the while of Opel and Vauxhall to compete here though.

The latest Vivaro van has been in production since 2014. The Nissan NV300, Fiat Talento and Renault Trafic are all part of the same project. Manufacturing takes places in two locations: Sandouville in France for the Renault and Nissan models as well as high roof versions of the Opel/Vauxhall Vivaro. All other Opel Vivaros and Vauxhall Vivaros are built in England at Vauxhall Motors' Luton plant. Depending on a number of factors, Luton might be at risk of closure in coming years.

The next generation models will likely move away from the JV with Renault, Nissan and FCA and become part of another venture, which is presently between PSA and Toyota Motor Europe. That might well have a major impact on Renault's Sandouville factory and possibly on Vauxhall's Luton plant, should all build be at the SEVEL nord plant in the French town of Lieu-Saint-Amand/Hordain. This is where TME and PSA's LCVs and their MPV variants are presently built.

EVs, PHEVs and even a fuel cell model

According to the terms of PACE!, "all passenger carlines" will be "electrified by 2024". That doesn't mean that combustion engines are going away. Rather, PHEV and battery-electric options will be available, should customers want them. The obvious question mark is over the A segment. How does Opel/Vauxhall find a way of selling an EV in this class, where margins are all but non-existent? Perhaps that is the answer - the brands might well be leaving this segment once the existing Karl and Viva are phased out. PSA buys in its existing tiny SUVs from Mitsubishi Motors, and these cars, the Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero, have not exactly been brisk sellers. The other alternative is noted above in the section concerning the Karl/Viva: switch the body style to a mini-SUV, build it at Kolin and in theory, see more sales and higher margins.

One class up, we know already that an electric Corsa is planned and in fact, Opel has already done much work on such a powertrain. The existing shape model was electrified as a prototype under GM ownership but the project was cancelled.

The next Mokka X will likely be available in PHEV form, although there is also a chance that instead, and depending on how sales of the Corsa BEV go, a fully electric derivative of the second generation of this B-SUV could be given the go-ahead.

In the C segment, a PHEV version of the Grandland X is already confirmed, and it seems logical to think that the next Astra will also offer this powertrain. Volkswagen is finding some success with the Golf GTE and by the time a potential Astra plug-in hybrid theoretically appears in 2021, technology costs should have fallen substantially. Such a car might even be built alongside its Peugeot, Citroen and DS equivalents in a PSA plant - Sochaux would be the obvious location.

Above the Astra and Grandland X, the 'Monza X' D-SUV which is confirmed as being under development is yet another model which would offer plug-in capability. This would more than likely be the four-cylinder PSA petrol plus one electric motor powertrain as will feature in the Grandland X PHEV and Peugeot 3008 PHEV twins.

What about an Insignia PHEV? Not for this generation it would seem. PACE! says that there will be four electrified models on sale by 2020, of which two will be the Corsa BEV and Grandland X PHEV. The others will be most likely the Mokka X EV or PHEV and and the 'Monza X' PHEV. Any larger vehicle, meaning a car to compete with the Passat GTE, seems destined to have to wait for the arrival of the third generation Insignia, which won't be before 2024.

Finally, it's good to see that Opel's ongoing R&D in the area of fuel cell vehicles will not be going to waste. PACE! notes that Groupe PSA's engineering base for this technology will be within Rüsselsheim. Collaboration with GM and Honda looks set to continue too.

In January, General Motors and its Japanese partner announced that their co-developed fuel cells would be manufactured at a plant in Michigan from 2020. Five months later, GM revealed a logo for this JV. Prior to that, in March, as the first details of the sale of Opel/Vauxhall were revealed, GM stated that PSA would have access to the venture.

When then should we see the first Opel and Vauxhall models running on hydrogen? A safe bet will probably be around 2021 or 2022 and there will probably be a model for DS and one for Peugeot too.

Summary

There are many ifs within PACE! and yet it seems like a realistic plan, especially as Opel has the advantage of not starting from scratch. A lot of very good work was done under GM ownership and now that there are clear goals - a sustainable business with break-even at 800,000 vehicles per annum, plus targeted growth in LCVs for example - it should in theory be possible for Opel/Vauxhall to reach them. What is missing is any stated threat to the brands by their ultimate owner, something which will be a very welcome novelty to those working within Opel and Vauxhall. Now it's up to Michael Lohscheller and his teams to deliver.

See also: PSA Opel-Vauxhall rescue plan avoids plant closures