General Motors’ European arm has launched in Australia this week ahead of Opel showrooms opening their doors locally in September.
Each Opel model is well equipped with standard features, though entry-level variants of both the Corsa and Astra start noticeably higher than key competitor models.
Opel Australia’s American boss, Bill Mott, admits the company is aiming to position its products as aspirational mainstream cars.
“If you call that [positioning] semi-premium then I guess that’s fine by us,” said Mott. “We are not calling our brand semi-premium per se. A premium brand would be, say, an Audi or Mercedes.
“The word the company likes to use is aspirational. Our vehicles are cars that people aspire to buy but are affordable.
“If you compare our [Corsa] Enjoy hatch with other five-door models we’ve got a very competitive model at the price we’ve got it [from $18,990].
“So when buyers compare like to like and start to add options to our competitors’ cars they’ll quickly find ours stack up very favourably and quite compelling. And it’s the same for Astra and Insignia.”
Opel says it’s not making it secret that it has designated Volkswagen as its key rival, admitting it has admired the sales growth the brand has achieved in Australia in recent years.
Most of the Opel models going on sale are actually built in Poland, Spain or the UK, though the company says it will be using German engineering as a major selling point for its cars.
“Research shows among imported cars, most Aussie customers would aspire to owning a German-engineered car over a car engineered in any other country … by far,” said Mott.
Successive years of growth – more than 300 per cent over a decade - have seen German brand VW storm into Australia’s top 10 most popular brands, and in 2011 it sold nearly 45,000 vehicles locally.
Former global Opel boss Karl-Friedrich Stracke last year revealed the company hoped to reach a quarter of that tally in Australia by 2015/2016.
It seemed a surprisingly ambitious declaration, though Opel Australia says it is sticking to that volume target.
“[That] 15,000 was made very clear as a target,” said Mott. “It was a long-term target and it wasn’t necessarily three years. It was a target we need to achieve and work to, and we’ll do precisely that. [Opel] management was pretty clear about its expectations of what we do [here].”
The Opel Astra (pictured above) will be key to the brand’s fortunes in Australia.
Opel admits research conducted on its behalf by Roy Morgan revealed there was minimal knowledge in Australia of the brand despite a number of its models having previously been sold in the country over the decades as rebadged Holdens.
One of those models, the Astra, accounted for about 250,000 sales from 1987 to 2008, and Opel says the same research said the Astra remained a highly recognised nameplate despite having been replaced by the Cruze as Holden’s small car.
“Our research has shown us that the Opel brand is relatively unknown here but our Astra nameplate enjoys virtually instant recognition and importantly also a certain pedigree,” said Mott.
“According to [that] Roy Morgan study, Astra is still one of the top three model names recalled by customers in the small-car segment – and that despite having exited the market back in 2008.”
Opel Australia says it is also planning to shortly introduce guaranteed service pricing plans and a roadside assistance program in response to its comprehensive research also revealing that buyers of European cars were “tired of getting ripped off”.
The brand will be represented by 17 stand-alone dealerships initially across the country, with expansions into areas such as regional NSW and key parts of Queensland also on the cards for 2013.
Opel is also set to unveil a new cabriolet model in 2013 that is also expected to get the nod for Australia.
Read CarAdvice's full coverage of Opel's Australian launch:
Opel Corsa: pricing and specifications
Opel Astra: pricing and specifications
Opel Astra GTC: pricing and specifications
Opel Insignia: pricing and specifications
Opel Astra Review