PARIS –Co.’s Chevrolet and Opel/Vauxhall brands are showing their extended-range electric vehicles to the public at the Mondial de l’Automobile show here this week.
The two EVs will compete against one another in Europe in 2012.
While the volumes will be insignificant, compared with the hundreds of thousands of regular vehicles the brands will be selling by then, the face-off is symbolic.
Asked whether having the Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera in the same market isn’t the return of GM’s badge engineering, company executives disagree.
“We run the businesses separately,” says Wayne Brannon, president of Chevrolet Europe, in an interview here.
“Positioning is highly separated,” he notes. “The brands that are left have been given authority and autonomy” to compete properly in the market place. “We are not going to blur our image, no more so thanand .”
Regarding the Ampera, Nick Reilly, president of Adam Opel GmbH says, “We haven’t talked about how we are going to sell it.”
However, he is a deep believer in the future of electric vehicles. “I think there will be growth,” depending on progress in battery technology and “how quickly we can reduce weight.”
While the rate of battery improvement depends on technical innovation, “it will probably move faster than some of us think,” Reilly adds.
Opel is an established brand in Western Europe, with 7.1% of the market through August, down from year-ago’s 7.5%. Chevrolet is the newbie with 1.3%.
But the wind seems to be filling the U.S. brand’s sails. Adding in its East Europe and Russian markets, Chevrolet claims a 2.5% share. And that’s with Chevy playing in only 25% of the market segments, Brannon notes.
Chevrolet is introducing four cars at the Paris show that will extend its reach: the new global compact Aveo car, which will have a diesel this time; the European Orlando minivan; a facelifted Captiva cross/utility vehicle; and a 5-door version of the Cruze.
Opel only has two new versions of the Astra: a station wagon version called the Sports Tourer and the GTC Paris, a pre-production concept of the 3-door Astra.
Opel has been losing market share, and as a brand dependent on Europe, it is suffering along with its market. In addition, Opel suffered a crisis of confidence last year when parent GM talked seriously about shedding the subsidiary.
Opel had to cancel or freeze investment programs to conserve cash during the black 2009 season, and only when President Obama’s team brought in new management did GM decide to keep Opel.
At Chevrolet, whose European market share is growing, “we’re getting all the investment we ever dreamed of,” says Brannon, who adds the brand never has had four world premiers at a single auto show before.
The new Aveo is especially important. It is a compact car that will be sold worldwide, manufactured in Michigan as well as in Korea and Russia. European Aveos will be sourced from South Korea, the home of GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co.
The Aveo replaces a former model picked up from the now-defunct Daewoo Motors Co. Ltd. Unlike the previous version, the new Aveo will be offered with diesel engines, which account for about half of the segment sales in Western Europe.
The Aveo is the third car in the GM Daewoo lineup to be redeveloped as a Chevrolet, after the Cruze and Spark.
The new model was developed at GM’s European technical center in Ruesselsheim, Germany. A range of 4-cyl. gasoline and diesel engines will be offered, and Chevrolet's first 6-speed transmission for a small car will be an option.
The Aveo is designed and positioned to appeal to younger buyers. The aggressive, sporty styling takes inspiration from motorcycles, and elements such as the protruding headlights and interior instruments placed in individual housings contribute to that look.
Like all the new cars, the Aveo has a Chevrolet 2-part grille. Round taillights echo design elements of the iconic Chevrolet Corvette. Sales are set to start next summer, along with the 5-door Cruze.
The Cruze sedan already is on sale in some 70 markets, but in Western Europe, hatchbacks sell better than sedans in the segment.
The Orlando further extends Chevrolet’s reach into Europe. A 7-seat family hauler, it will be offered with a 1.8L gasoline engine making 141 hp and two 2.0L diesels that deliver 131 hp and 163 hp. Sales begin early next year. Based on the Cruze platform, the Orlando has a relatively low roofline to aide aerodynamics and an interior aimed at families.
The Captiva CUV changes little technically but gets a new Chevrolet face and a better interior, including its instrument panel.
Chevrolet Europe is counting on reaching total sales of 500,000 units in 2011 and is aiming at 1 million in 2015-2016, says Brannon, who notes because the entire lineup is being replaced, the brand will be in more segments. “Two years from now at the Paris show, our oldest car will be 18 months old,” he says.
Opel, meantime, exudes optimism. “We are progressing swiftly with our growth plan,” Reilly says. “Today, we have the best product portfolio ever, and we’re just getting started. We said at the beginning of this year we would be investing €11 billion ($15 billion) in new products and that we would be updating our entire portfolio.”
More importantly, Opel is being encouraged to push into new markets and become a global brand like Chevrolet. Opel has developed export markets in Israel and Chile and is working on two more significant markets: China and Australia.
The new Astras were designed under British design chief Mark Adams and developed in Europe. The Sports Tourer wagon will be sourced solely from the U.K. plant in Ellesmere Port.
The vehicle will offer a range of engines that produce from 95-180 hp. With stop/start technology on the 1.3L diesel engine to be offered early next year, carbon-dioxide emissions will be as low as 109 g/km.
The Opel GTC Paris concept foretells a hot-hatch version with room inside for five passengers. It is shown with a 2.0L direct-injection, turbocharged gasoline engine making 290 hp.
The 5-door Astra launched last in 2009 has received more than 200,000 orders, and the new Meriva has booked 70,000 orders, says Opel, with both figures above original sales targets. New diesel engines are being offered in the Meriva, as well.
Brannon looks at the Opel-Chevy face-off like competitive cereals on a supermarket shelf. “When the market gets big enough, there is room for more than one brand,” he says.
The Ampera and Volt EREVs go into production late next year and will be on sale in Europe in early 2012. They will have a range of about 50 miles (81 km) on electricity from the 16-kWh lithium-ion battery. A generator onboard can produce enough electricity for another 280 miles (450 km).