In the Fairfax Press, General Motors has apparently conﬁrmed it will bring in Opel-branded cars to sell alongside Holden-branded ones.
It’s an obvious move. For years, a good part of Holden’s range was Opel-designed. Like Vauxhall, the model name was the same as the Opels on the Continent, but with Holden in front, with the exception of the Opel Corsa (called Holden Barina).
In fact, New Zealand ﬁelded the Holden Vectra before Australia introduced this model with the B series. The two markets have often differed—those old enough might remember the Holden-badged version of the Isuzu Aska, assembled locally as the Camira in favour of the Australian model.
Australia, which I believe still has tariffs on motor cars, found the Opel-made product increasingly expensive, especially against Hyundai, which has carved huge inroads into the market.
In the mid-2000s, the Opels began disappearing in favour of Daewoos. The Opel Corsa C gave way to the inferior Daewoo Kalos. The Opel Vectra C, never facelifted, gave way to the Daewoo Tosca. The Daewoo Lacetti was inserted below the Opel Astra G and H, though the latest Lacetti Première, badged Holden Cruze, has supplanted both the former Lacetti and the Astra.
In other words, Holden’s product was outclassed at every level by its principal rival Ford—certainly on this side of the Tasman, where CD-segment vehicles sell particularly well. Maybe Holden had Ford licked on price, but in terms of brand equity, it was falling fast. Perceived quality? Forget it. Brand loyalty? Don’t think it’s going to happen. There is very little that’s desirable about a Daewoo, though I admit to appreciating the Winstorm SUV’s styling. The car as a commodity? That’ll be the Daewoo.
The Astra still has a lot of fans in Australia, so the plan is to bring in that model at least—and as affordable, European cars, positioning roughly where Volkswagen is. Corsa, Insignia and others will come in as well, with both a new dealer network and some Holden dealers.
The analysts have found that in Europe, Chevrolet (Eurospeak for Daewoo) has not cannibalized Opel sales. No surprises there. Take me: an Opel customer. I wrote to Holden some years ago, when they threatened to bring in the Daewoo Tosca, that there was no way in heck I would get one of their cars. I’m willing to bet that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way, and the fact the Tosca looks like a Seoul taxicab helps my argument.
Why not, I said, bring in Opels and pursue a unique model strategy, as GMNZ did in the 1980s and 1990s?
The question now is price. Opels were sold here in the 1980s at a premium and found few customers. It was only with the 1989 introduction of the Vectra A, at a reasonable price, that GM began clawing back market share in that segment. New Zealanders didn’t seem to mind whether the car was branded Opel or Holden, but when it did become a Holden in 1994, it made marketing a great deal easier.
Fairfax hints that Opels will carry a premium in Australia. But it rightly points out that Ford has European-sourced models that are competitive. However, I can make one thing very clear for New Zealand: if GM decides to reintroduce Opel into this market, where there are no tariffs on cars, it’ll have to be positioned against a lot of the competition from Ford. I have a feeling most Kiwis know they are buying German engineering when they head to the blue oval, with the exception of the Falcon, and Ford’s marketing has said as much.
We’ve had a different history from the Australians, and the brand has different connotations. It’s certainly not premium, and there’s very little reason for it to be. Ford might have had Dennis Waterman as Terry McCann singing the Minder “feem toon” do a dealer ad here in New Zealand, but, remember, GM had George Cole, as Arthur Daley, sell the Opel.
George Cole is not premium.
Mainstream European brands have failed time and again with premium pricing here. Peugeot lost sales when it began having ideas above its station. Renault has consistently got its pricing wrong and missed plenty of opportunities.
I have a feeling some of this is due to New Zealanders being world travellers. In a small country, we have to look outward. And that brings us exposure to international brands very readily.
We’ve also had plenty of used Japanese imports—including ex-Japan Opel Astra Gs.
It may account for why we don’t fall for the fake snobbery that automakers have tried to slap us with for many years. We seem to adopt best practice on so many things because I believe we’re an accepting people.
Transparency will be the order of the day. GM can’t afford to have Kiwis reject a brand for having ideas above its station should it go ahead with a similar effort over here. It has to balance (our relatively small) volume carefully with cannibalization. It has to consider whether it would like to have Holden’s brand equity continue to dip.
Mind you, we could have avoided all this if in 1992 GM did what I suggested then: badge the whole lot as Opel.* It would have ruined the blokeyness of the Holden brand, but it would have had products that appealed to buyers of B-, C- and CD-segment cars. In 1992, a big Opel Commodore, VP series, wouldn’t have been too bad, would it? And we’d have hopefully avoided this Daewoo experiment that has made ‘Australia’s own’ synonymous with ‘Made in Korea’.
* I know, with hindsight, this would have been a rotten idea, especially with New Zealanders embracing the VT Commodore in 1997. It’s hard to imagine that model having greater success here with a non-Holden badge.—JY