Three things will restore struggling General Motors Europe to profit: product, product and product.
That was the message General Motors had for journalists at its annual Geneva motor show press conference yesterday, traditionally the largest and best-attended of the show media events, writes just-auto.com deputy editor Graeme Roberts.
All the heavy hitters were there – GM president and CEO Richard Wagoner, GME president Mike Burns, the new corporate VP of product development Bob Lutz, Opel chairman and MD Carl-Peter Forster and Saab chairman and CEO Peter Augustsson.
All, to a man, stressed that new products, and lots of ‘em, are coming.
Key to GME’s success is, of course Opel. Lutz set the scene with a quick review of recent North American roll-outs to prove the company really does mean business – Pontiac Solstice from concept to Detroit show in four months, Hummer H2, Cadillac Cien (shown at Geneva), Chevy BelAir and SSR, regained truck leadership – and then handed over to Forster who delivered the European kicker: 10 billion euros will be invested in 10 new Opels (aka Vauxhalls, Holdens and South American Chevrolets) in the next five years.
The model mix is also headed for a major overhaul.
“Currently 80 percent of our products fall into the category of traditional body styles: sedans, hatchbacks and station wagons,” Forster said.
“That ratio will change to 40 percent traditional, 40 percent innovative and 20 percent niche.”
First of the new cars is the all-new Vectra, detailed by just-auto.com recently. Forster claims it sets new standards for its class but these are hardly evident in the styling and cabin following outr first look at the show, though there are a number of technical innovations, mostly in electronic chassis-related components.
Forster claimed to be “encouraged” by the car’s positive media reviews though a group of less-parochial Antipodean journalists we spoke to – whose markets will get the Vectra as a Holden – described the car’s handling as lack-lustre with suspension set too soft and an over-willing traction control system.
Following the launch of ‘traditional’ Vectra sedan and hatchback lines this year, including a sporty 3.2-litre V6 GTS sedan, Opel will launch the – apparently both innovative and niche – Signum, something of an executive minivan/station wagon cross next year. However, Renault is already, to some extent in this market with its Espace-based Avantime. There will also be a new Vectra station wagon next year.
More encouraging, perhaps, is the Concept M, a stylish little minivan sized just right for European conditions. It looked remarkably production-ready and is far more likely to win friends in Opel and Vauxhall showrooms than the awful Suzuki-based Agila, GM’s sole current minivan offering below its seven-passenger Zafira.
Forster described the Concept M as “a sporty and environment-friendly monocab design” and said it was powered by a 1.6-litre, natural gas-fuelled turbocharged engine combined with GM’s automated-manual Easytronic transmission.
“This 200km/h vehicle is also well ahead of its time as far as the interior is concerned and offers plenty of potential for innovative solutions in the future.
“It reveals another unique vehicle concept that you can expect to see become available in our product portfolio in the near future,” Forster said.
“With vehicles like the Signum and Concept M, Opel will continue to expand its product offerings in creative and interesting ways in order to reach out to more diverse customer segments.”
Forster added that, following the opening of a new Vectra facility at Russelsheim, GME would also upgrade other plants as new models go into production. Bochum and Antwerp will be modernised for the next Astra (Ellesmere Port, a major RHD Astra plant, has already been done ready for the new Vectra, which it now also builds).
Ignoring comment on the recent sacking of 900 German dealers to restructure the network, Forster concluded: “These may be tough times, but with the talent of our people, the strength of our past, our plan for the future, our unrelenting focus on product and quality, and the support of GM, we are definitely on the right path for our company and our customers.”