GM is fighting a serious rearguard action in Europe to keep its Opel and Vauxhall brands in the frame. Good though the cars may look and behave, they are squeezed between the demand for brand icons at the top, the downsizing trend from Vectras to lower-margin Astras, and the decay of the medium saloon sector in favour of SUV soft-roaders.


You have to be something of a student of international brand ownership to recognise that the General has a plan to fight back which seems to be going quite well so far. But it’s early days and small numbers.


Korea is the new “design architecture” headquarters for GM small cars – a responsibility won on merit as a result of the success of the latest venture. Small cars sold in Korea are Daewoos. Those sold in Europe – east and west – are now Chevys. In Australia and other odd spots down under, they will be Holdens. Less obviously, the Daewoo boys will be knocking up some sheet metal changes and shipping Vauxhalls and Opels to Europe alongside the Chevys. So far, everyone is lying doggo on what those changes might be, and what the distinction of brand values might become. Big secret.


Makes sense though doesn’t it for the Ophall twins to work steadily away from the value brand image and have a crack at Audi and the other German technocrats? Chevy then gets the value sector to itself.


The start to the game has come with Chevy Captiva – a compact softroad 4WD and FWD two-litre seven-seater. It arrives across east and west Europe any time now and in the UK in January. But as part of the global small car grand plan, Chevy Captiva will be setting up in the Middle East and Latin America. It will also be a Daewoo Winstorm (sic) in Korea and Holden Captiva in Oz. Then there will be Ophall Antara versions for Europe which are shorter and therefore five-seater only, stiffer, sportier and possibly with the 3.2litre engine. They are in their markets towards the end of this year.


Just to unscramble the whole complex jigsaw: chassis control and adaptive FWD came from Detroit, 2.4 and 3.2 litre petrol engines from Holden in Oz, ride and handling from Germany, testing at Millbrook in the UK. With stuff happening in three time zones, it became a non-stop, 24×7, three-year project. Daewoo strapped it all together under the direction of a GM career engineer, Chuck Russell.


Chuck reckons that this is the first GM-Daewoo collaboration on a new vehicle from the ground up and it went really well (don’t get too pernickety with him about the six month delay to the UK’s RHD diesel version). He reckons that Korea was always really good at design engineering under GM ownership. But it is only now that they are working together to pool their complementary skills.


The factory is pumping up to maximum production and hope to get 350,000 units a year eventually. There is to be a Russian assembly plant to assist within a couple of years.

So America’s best-selling brand (Chevrolet is just keeping its nose ahead of Ford and Toyota for now) famed for its gas guzzlers, is determined to make its name as a value brand in Europe with cars built in Korea. What we do know is that Chuck had to tell the boys that this was a priority project for GM. The ailing giant’s path back to prosperity depends on cars being built in cheap centres and sold at high margins in the high price markets.


Captiva is the test of that.


Rob Golding


See also: GERMANY/UK: GM shows off new SUV for Europe