General Motors’ German unit Opel expects to sell more new Astra compacts in Europe this year than originally anticipated, GM Europe president Carl-Peter Forster reportedly told journalists on Wednesday night.

“We will sell more than 200,000 (new) Astras,” Forster told Reuters during the unveiling of three new models.

Sales of the new Astra would not exceed 230,000 this year due to capacity constraints, he reportedly added.

Reuters noted that GM had originally set a target of 200,000 units of the model, which Opel sales chief Uhland Burkart said has emerged from a dip in new orders following a strong sales start earlier this year.

Opel reportedly has orders for 160,000 Astras, which will keep factories producing until October.

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Reuters noted that the new Astra is competing head on with Volkswagen’s [also recently redesigned] Golf V – the VW model saw a slow start but sales have picked up after the company began offering free air conditioning as an incentive [an offer expanded to the UK market in the last week].

GM reportedly expects to sell between 65,000 and 70,000 new Astras in Germany alone, including roughly 15,000 estates [station wagons] called Astra Caravan and due to hit showrooms in mid-October.

Reuters said Opel expects to expand its market share in Europe to 10.7% in 2004 – according to Brussels-based industry group ACEA, Opel and its British sister brand Vauxhall [which builds some Astras in its UK factory] had a share of 9.2% in western Europe last year.

Forster reportedly reiterated GM Europe’s aim to reach profitability in 2004 after years of losses, but said that this would be a difficult target to reach.

The European arm of GM posted a loss of €286 million ($US353.7 million) in 2003, Reuters said.