Opel is getting what it once wanted

Opel's unions and its engineers should tell the German government that they are delighted to know that General Motors Co. views Opel as a regional brand, not an international one.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson said yesterday that he's not looking to turn Opel into a global brand, exporting its vehicles to markets hither and yon.

"Opel is a regional brand and I don't see that changing. That doesn't mean I'm closed to ideas about how it can be used elsewhere; but the measure of the Opel brand's success will be Europe, because if you don't win here all the discussion of exports will be irrelevant," he said.

Henderson arrived at Opel's headquarters in Ruesselsheim, Germany, on Monday to repair relations strained when GM decided, after about a year of trying to sell Opel, to instead keep its European unit.

Oddly, though, Henderson's German audience seemed to take offense at his comments. Reuters' local reporter wrote that GM “crushed hopes that Opel would play a greater role within its vast empire.”

Huh?

Last time I checked, that's exactly what Opel managers wanted.

In the mid- to late-1990s, GM tried to make Opel its global brand. Opels were exported aggressively to Japan and elsewhere in Asia, and Opel engineers were enlisted to develop cars for such growth markets as Thailand and China.

Before long, though, large numbers of Opel's top German managers were resisting the global role they had been given. They whined that engineers were too busy working on cars for China, and weren't spending enough time on vehicles for Europe.

In the face of open rebellion, GM caved. It dropped Opel as its global brand, and gave that role to Chevrolet. Opel, it decided, would stand for German engineering for the European market.

If Opel's workforce is upset today that Henderson is committed to keeping Opel focused on Europe, they're being disingenuous. I think the real problem is that they just don't like GM very much right now. I think Henderson will find it difficult to find anything to say that Opel's German managers will accept.

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