PARIS – Adam Opel GmbH could compete in as many as eight new markets in 2011, as the beleaguered auto maker foresees higher productivity and the promise of profitability by 2012.
Agreements to accommodate Opel’s market expansion should be in place by year-end, says CEO Nick Reilly.
“Then it takes a little bit of time to make sure that homologation is right for that particular country,” he says here at the Paris auto show. “During 2011, I would say we’ll be making a push into at least six, maybe eight new territories.”
Such moves were unimaginable this time last year, as Opel’s finances were in shambles, its product-planning budget was sliced accordingly and its very survival questionable.
“Maybe the worst would be internal motivation of people,” Reilly tells journalists. “The morale was right on the floor and there was quite a lot of internal strife. I’m very happy to tell you that we’re way past that now.”
Concessions by unions representing hourly workers portend savings of €265 million ($362 million) annually. And if the market performs as expected, Reilly says the labor-cost reductions – which include the closure this year of Opel’s assembly plant in Antwerp, Belgium – will contribute to a 2-shift capacity-utilization rate estimated at 110%.
“In our original plan, we still expected to lose some money in the underlying business next year because the market is still fairly weak,” he says. “But I think we’ve got a fighting chance of break-even next year. And then 2012, it looks much healthier.”
In addition to recently announced agreements to do business in Chile and Israel, and previously stated intentions to enter the Australian market, Opel is pursuing deals in Argentina and “a couple of others” in South America, Reilly says, adding plans are being made to increase the auto maker’s limited presence in China.
Opel still will be “a relatively niche player” in China, he says. But because it’s the world’s largest new-vehicle market, the opportunity is attractive, despite the entrenchment there ofCo. stable-mates Chevrolet and Buick.
“Opel buyers virtually never consider a Chevrolet, and vice-versa,” Reilly says. “We have dealers who carry both franchises and they tell us the same. The overlap is absolutely minimal.”
What about the Opel Insignia and its Buick Regal platform-mate, a strong seller in China? The Insignia will arrive first with a wagon body style not offered by Buick, the Opel chief says.
The German brand also has the Zafira and Meriva, a pair of people-movers for which there are no Buick competitors. The Opel Corsa C-car also has no opposing Buick.
“We can get a pretty decent portfolio without really competing directly with Buick,” Reilly says.
As a further sign of Opel’s growing stability, the auto maker’s total product portfolio is “fully funded,” he adds, despite the burden of lingering restructuring costs.
The painful process of closing the Antwerp plant is nearing an end and Opel is talking to “potential investors” about the site, Reilly says.
Restructuring in Spain is finished and about 90% complete in the U.K. “And we’re on our way in Germany,” he says, adding more fallout is expected.
“(Restructuring), obviously, costs quite a bit of money. So that’s hitting our financials this year. Some of it will spill into next year. If you take that out of the equation, our underlying performance is a bit ahead of our plan so far.”
This time last year, at the Frankfurt auto show, Siegfried Wolf, who was co-CEO ofInternational Inc., had a front-row seat during Opel’s press conference. He proudly wore an Opel pin on his lapel.
had reached an agreement to acquire Opel from GM, but that deal later collapsed.