Sexy Opel Astra GTC Could Be Next New BuickBy Michelle Krebs September 21, 2011
General Motors Co.s newly introduced Opel Astra GTC may find its way from Europe into Buicks U.S. product line. I could easily see it as a Buick, Opels top executive, Karl-Friedrich Stracke, said in a briefing with media and analysts at Opels Rüsselsheim, Germany, headquarters last week. The briefing followed the official unveiling of the production Astra GTC at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show. The United Auto Workers (UAW) union newly negotiated contract with GM further paves the way for the Astra GTC. In announcing details of the contract Tuesday, union officials said GM had committed to build an unspecified compact vehicle at an unspecified plant, creating more than 500 jobs. The Astra is a highly likely candidate.
Stracke and other GM executives said Opel will work more closely with Buick in developing new vehicles, especially compact and midsize cars, in the future. The plan is reminiscent of one developed before GMs 2009 Chapter 11 bankruptcy that had Opel working with GMs now-defunct Saturn brand to develop vehicles adapted for U.S. consumption. In fact, a German-built Saturn Astra sold in the U.S. before the brand was discontinued was a re-badged Opel Astra with little modification. It met little success largely due to a hefty price courtesy of disadvantageous currency exchange rates, and sold for the single 2008 model year.
GTC A Winner?
Opel and Buick have history. Long ago, when GM sold Opels in the United States, they generally were offered through Buick dealers. Of late, Opel has supplied Buick with its newest vehicle architectures the midsized Epsilon II and soon, the Delta II compact-car platform on which the Opel GTC is based and has built vehicles for Buick to sell in the United States. The Opel Insignias Epsilon front-wheel-drive architecture serves as the basis for the Buick Regal; a longer version of the Insignia structure is under the Buick LaCrosse. The Regal was built in Opels Rüsselsheim factory and exported to the United States until March, when production shifted to more currency-favorable Canada.
Stracke said the Astra GTC could be sold in China, possibly as a Buick, to appeal to the up-and-coming youth market that wants sporty cars. The Astra GTC may also find its way to Australia and other non-Euro markets. Selling Opel vehicles to markets outside of Europe whether they bear the Opel name or some other GM badge is part of Opels comeback strategy. Opel is intended to largely remain a regional brand, however; Cadillac and Chevrolet will be GMs sole global brands. Opels will not be sold through a separate channel or sport an Opel logo in the United States, Stracke insisted.
Outside of the United States and Europe, the non-GTC version of the small Opel Astra family car is built and sold as the Buick Excelle XT in China. Regular versions of the Astra also have been sold in Australia and South America. The Opel Astra GTC unveiled last week was first shown in concept guise at last falls Paris auto show. Opel followed up with a teaser photo released in April with the announcement that Opel and Vauxhall dealers in Europe would begin taking orders in June, and GM has a hefty 15,000 of those orders.
Buick Goes Sportier
Apart from a modified version of the Delta II platforms front strut and rear twist-beam suspension, the Astra GTC, with its sweeping lines, shares virtually nothing else with the standard issue Astra, except for the sideview mirrors and antenna. It comes with a choice of one diesel and three gasoline engines, including a range-topping 177-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4 with a 6-speed manual transmission. The 2.0-liter common-rail turbodiesel with stop/start technology delivers 162 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque and returns up to 48 mpg. The Astra GTC features lower ride height and wider track than its siblings, with a fully adaptive, sport-tuned suspension. European buyers can choose from seven different wheel designs, in sizes from 17 to 20 inches.
The Astra GTC is high-tech; as Opel filed for 11 patents during its development. Among the high-tech systems and gadgets are the large panoramic windshield, Opel Eye front-camera system, Traffic-Sign Recognition, Lane-Departure Warning, Following-Distance Indication, Advanced Forward Lighting and Intelligent Light Ranging. Prices in Europe range from $31,800 to $40,750.
A Buick spokesman refused to comment on speculation about the future of Buicks product portfolio, but the sportiness of the Opel Astra GTC certainly fits where GM management wants to take the brand. Buick long had one of the oldest buyer demographics in the U.S. auto industry, but has been lowering its average buyer age of late. In part, it is doing so by offering sportier rides, the most recent being the Buick Regal GS. Buick also needs to expand its product offerings to grow sales as it is reliant on but a few for the bulk of its sales. With Pontiac and Saturn gone from the GM fold, Buick has more room to spread its wings in terms of sporty vehicles like the Astra GTC.