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by Tim Beissmann

The boss of General Motors’ European operations has outlined a 10-point plan for turning around Opel and Vauxhall and returning them to profitability as quickly as possible.

Opel/Vauxhall CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke today announced the introduction of three new engine families over the next 12 months, beginning with a brand-new turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol unit.

The SIDI (spark ignition direct injection) Ecotec engine will be available in a number of states of tune and across several model lines. At its most potent, the 1.6-litre turbo will produce 149kW of power at 4700rpm and 300Nm of torque from 1700rpm.

Opel says the engine will be 13 per cent more fuel efficient than its existing 1.6-litre turbo, which suggests combined cycle fuel consumption of around 6.0 litres per 100km in an Astra-sized vehicle.

Production of the new engine will begin in Hungary late this year.

Two other new engine families will join the 1.6-litre turbo in the duo’s line-ups before the middle of 2013. One will be a diesel, while the other is rumoured to be a three-cylinder petrol family for the brands’ city cars.

Stracke said new vehicles would be central to the brands’ turnaround, highlighting GM’s 11 billion euro ($14 billion) investment in new models through to 2014.

Six of those will be seen this year, including “the subcompact SUV Mokka, a new Astra version, a completely new convertible and the Adam … urban vehicle”.

Increasing profit margin per vehicle will be another focus, and Stracke says this will be achieved by reducing material costs and the manufacturing complexity of its cars.

Stracke also plans to streamline the production process, confirming the next-generation Astra would be built in two plants over three shifts rather than the current three-plant/two-shift set-up.

He said a big part of improving Opel’s profitability would be expanding its export program to new markets, including Australia from September. “We’ve already successfully introduced Opel to the market in Israel and we’ll expand our activities in China, Russia and Turkey,” Stracke said.

He made it clear exports from Europe would not be enough to operate the factories at full capacity, however, and said Opel was currently in discussions with officials in Detroit and Shanghai to study the merit of building Chevrolet vehicles in Europe to improve capacity usage.

Stracke says Opel/Vauxhall is also open to partnerships similar to the one recently formed between GM and PSA Peugeot Citroen, although he stressed that no jobs would be lost from the company’s technical development centre in Germany as a result.

“At the moment we’re at a stage where we’re studying several specific projects with PSA in detail,” he said.

“If we decide to move an Opel/Vauxhall development project to PSA, then we’ll balance it by bringing a PSA project to Russelsheim.”

Stracke said Opel would also aim to expand its position as a leading manufacturer of alternative fuel vehicles, strive to become one of the industry leaders in quality and customer satisfaction, and develop a new brand strategy geared towards attracting “traditional and attainable potential customers”.

GM Europe hasn’t recorded an annual profit in more than a decade. Its US$700 million ($703 million) loss in 2011 came on the back of a $1.3 billion loss in 2010.

On the subject of the company’s continuing employee wage negotiations, Stracke said the existing labour agreement would remain until 2014, telling workers, “the quicker we become profitable, the quicker we’ll share it with you”.




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