In this exclusive interview with just-auto’s Glenn Brooks, Rita Forst, head of Engineering for Opel-Vauxhall, speaks about future powertrains, platforms and why GM’s forthcoming Fiat 500 rival has not been engineered for the US market.
j-a: We saw the world premiere of the Opel Mokka at the Geneva show. What can you tell us about the platform; is it a derivative of Gamma 2?
RF: We call it Sub-Small; it’s not on Gamma 2.
j-a: What does it share with other existing GM platforms?
RF: Lots of components. I can only say that these components are shared with cars smaller than the Astra.
j-a: The Corsa replacement seems an obvious extra derivative of this new Sub-Small architecture.
RF: I cannot comment on that.
j-a: How about other Mokka variants – not just the Buick Encore and Chevrolet’s small SUV – is there a long-wheelbase bodystyle to come?
RF: I can only say wait and see.
j-a: So that’s not a no?
RF: (She grins) Wait and see.
j-a: Is the all-wheel drive system in the Mokka new?
RF: It’s an on-demand system and from a system point of view we have it already in the Insignia.
j-a: Have you had any involvement with PSA for the integration of future engineering projects?
RF: No, it’s too early, but I’m looking forward to working with PSA.
j-a: What about your JV with Fiat for diesel engine production in Europe, how does the PSA alliance affect that?
RF: First of all, since we created our own diesel development centre in Turin, we continue to develop our own in-house diesel engines. So you will see Euro 6-compliant versions of our current diesels. There is also a totally new 2.0-litre coming, with balance shafts and a highly sophisticated injection system. But first there will be our new 1.0-litre three-cylinder, as well as new 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre four-cylinder engines – these are all gasoline engines – and then the 2.0-litre diesel.
j-a: What will we see in terms of new transmissions?
RF: First, a new six-speed manual and also a seven-speed DCT.
j-a: Presumably for the next Corsa?
RF: You will have to wait and see.
j-a: What about the Junior, can you talk about that?
RF: Yes, this is going to be a very important car for Europe. It has been specially engineered for this region. OK, components and modules, these can be shared but the car itself, it will be unique for Opel and Vauxhall.
j-a: Can you confirm that the Junior will be manufactured in Germany at Eisenach?
j-a: On a dedicated line?
RF: No, it will be shared.
j-a: How about the production name: will it be Junior, Allegra or maybe something else?
RF: I cannot say. But maybe you should wait for the Paris show in September.
j-a: Was there any time saved by the decision that was taken to engineer the car for Europe only?
RF: Well, it’s true to say we won’t sell the Junior in all global regions. The car is very specific for Opel-Vauxhall.
j-a: So what kinds of things did you not have to worry about as you developed the car? US crash regulations, perhaps?
RF: It takes a lot of time if you apply all the global requirements but since this was a dedicated task for Opel-Vauxhall, it was much easier. There has been a different kind of focus in developing this car. There has been more effort in the area of communication of new media as we know European customers in this small car segment in particular want these kinds of features.
j-a: So unlike its rivals the Mini and Fiat 500, the Junior definitely won’t be sold in the US and Canada.
RF: We decided not to go for federalisation as this would have delayed the project by around one and a half years. We have a lot of markets where the Junior would meet buyers’ requirements, but not in the US. I would not think that within the lifecycle of the Junior that we would federalise it. But for the next generation Junior, it would make sense, definitely. We were all behind Nick (Reilly) when he said that we want the car as soon as we can in Europe, so this is the reason.
j-a: What are your thoughts on the proposed Euro 7 regulations – the costs are surely proving difficult for European manufacturers such as Opel-Vauxhall to justify?
RF: This is a big problem, and especially for the diesels. For both Euro 6 and yes, for the next Euro 7, you must apply a lot of high-cost and sophisticated after-treatment. And also you have trade-offs in order to meet particulates and NoX requirements – trade-offs with fuel economy. So therefore where is the sweet spot? This is the kind of discussion we are having. Are small diesel engines still viable in the future? Maybe we are better off in the small car segments, from a cost perspective and from an emissions versus fuel consumption question, with small gasoline engines?
j-a: There is major pressure from GM for Opel to reduce costs, and yet at the same time there are three additional products due for launch within the next six to twelve months: Mokka, Junior and a new convertible. Do you see your engineering budget continuing to expand or will it be cut?
RF: My budget has not been cut. We are running according to our plan, but there is always a desire for more products and I think here we might be really sensitive to the approved products which will be the most profitable. I think we will keep our volumes high and grow our volumes, and this we will do with new products.
From an engineering perspective, my job is to provide increased efficiencies in order to provide Opel-Vauxhall with savings. So this means synergies in things like sharing more components, reusing components, use new technologies maybe with a partner and this includes a supplier – so there are a lot of measures to create a better performance from Engineering.