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Opel to return to Australia, Holden to lose Commodore and Astra?

The plot thickens in the proposed Holden distribution deal. Independent importer Inchcape could bring Opel back to local showrooms — with a rebadged Commodore and Astra as part of the line-up.

German brand Opel could make a return to Australia in a move that would see Commodore and Astra vacate Holden showrooms and leave it with a range of SUVs and utes.

The bold plan is one of two confidential proposals reportedly being discussed with General Motors and independent importer Inchcape, a UK-based firm which distributes Subaru, Peugeot and Citroen cars in Australia.

Last week the Australian Financial Review reported on a secret proposal for Inchcape to take over distribution of all Holden cars in Australia.

However, CarAdvice understands one option would see Inchcape re-establish the Opel brand in Australia. Opel was axed locally in August 2013 – after selling just 1500 cars through 20 dealers over 11 months.

The return of Opel would pull the Commodore and Astra out of Holden showrooms because both cars are made by Opel in Europe. If Opel were to return to Australia the Commodore would likely be renamed Insignia while the Astra would retain its badge. Both models would be joined by selected models from the extensive Opel range.

If the proposal goes ahead Holden would initially be left with a purely SUV and ute line-up: Trax, Equinox, Acadia, Trailblazer and Colorado.

Holden would not comment on the possibility of losing the Commodore and Astra nameplates from its portfolio and referred us to the statement issued last week that said the company was “fully focused on … building a strong Holden for the future, as it remains an important part of GM’s business”.

However, Holden has told dealers and head office staff the media reports are “speculation”.

Holden boss Dave Buttner told dealers in a phone conference that was originally scheduled to discuss Takata airbags that they should put no weight behind the story about the proposed Inchcape deal.

Inchcape also would not comment on the possibility of the Opel brand returning and repeated its statement from last week: “We are always assessing a range of opportunities and initiatives in support of our Ignite strategy and we do not comment on speculation.”

The Opel proposal has come about because Inchcape already distributes Peugeot and Citroen in Australia.

General Motors sold Opel to the Peugeot-Citroen group in March 2017. While the deal was a clean break for Opel in Europe, it left General Motors in the unusual position of buying cars from Peugeot-Citroen for Holden.

Adding Opel to Inchcape’s distribution portfolio in Australia would help bolster its local operations after weak sales of the French brands in 2018.

Peugeot and Citroen sold a combined total of 3300 cars in Australia last year. By comparison Holden sold approximately 9000 Commodores and 6000 Astra hatches. With these two models and a selection of other offerings, Opel could become the second-biggest automotive brand for Inchcape in Australia, behind Subaru.

Above: Holden boss, Dave Buttner

In its 2017 annual report, in reference to the recently-announced Peugeot-Citroen deal, Inchcape forecast “much further scope to continue building the Australian business for this new brand partner”.

Inchcape, which distributes 35 automotive brands in 32 countries, says one of the company’s key objectives is to be a “trusted partner” of major car companies. “As they seek to develop in new territories and as they increase their global offering, so do we,” says the Inchcape annual report.

Meanwhile, Inchcape is currently reviewing its Australian operations. While it is contracted to distribute Subaru, Peugeot and Citroen cars locally — and will retain its network of Subaru dealerships in Sydney and Melbourne — Inchcape is reportedly negotiating the sale of its Trivett Group of showrooms.

Inchcape bought the Trivett Group of 17 dealerships in March 2013, representing prestige brands such as Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mini, McLaren and Rolls-Royce. Inchcape, via the Trivett Group, also owns showrooms selling mainstream brands such as Honda, Isuzu, Jeep, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling