Opel's minicar troubles

Car buyers increasingly battered by the recession and concerned about the environment are turning to cheap, fuel-efficient minicars. All European automakers have something to offer in this segment -- except Opel.

That's not because Opel doesn't want to sell a minicar. In 2004, the automaker unveiled the Trixx concept at the Geneva auto show. The cleverly designed and cute little 3+1 seater won a lot of praise, but it never went into production. Earlier this year, Toyota launched a similar car called the iQ.

GM was not keen on Opel building the Trixx because it didn't want a competitor to the Chevrolet Matiz. The U.S. carmaker's troubles in its home market also meant that Opel's needs in the European market were not a high priority.

Now Opel has revived its minicar ambitions with its future new owner, Magna International.

But Opel's former owner, General Motors, which continually dampened its European brand's hopes of joining the fast-growing minicar segment, is interfering again.

If Magna gets Opel it aims to launch a minicar in 2012 using the platform of the Corsa subcompact, but GM is pressing Opel to use the Matiz underpinnings developed by its Korean unit GM Daewoo.

Using the Matiz platform would enable GM to keep close control of the minicar's development. Opel's leaders are worried about whether the GM project will ever become a reality.

Given GM's past neglect of the key minicar segment, they're probably right to be worried.The 3m-long Trixx concept had ingenious ideas to boost space such as a foldaway front passenger's seat and a roof hatch that opens to carry extra-long objects in an upright position.

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