ALBUFEIRA, Portugal - Adam Opel AG, General Motors' struggling German unit, adds two open-air models this month: the sporty Opel Speedster and the compact Astra Cabrio.
Neither is headed for the U.S. market, said Opel spokesman Johan Willems at a press introduction here Feb. 25.
The Cabrio debuted at the Geneva auto show Feb. 27, while the Speedster's identical twin, the Vauxhall VX220, went on sale in November in the United Kingdom.
But if parent GM changes its mind about U.S. exports, the Astra Cabrio is a plausible candidate. It has an optional engine that meets U.S. standards, front and side airbags for the front passengers as standard equipment, and is getting an optional automatic transmission this fall.
The U.S. market is short of inexpensive convertibles, and the power top on the Cabrio is a feature normally seen on more expensive cars. The car looks like a potential fit with either Saturn, Chevrolet, Pontiac or Saab.
The Speedster is a far less likely candidate for U.S. sales. Although it and the top-of-the-line version of the Cabrio share the same engine, the Speedster lacks a passenger-side airbag or side airbags.
Without additional expensive changes, its low stance and lightweight construction would make it difficult to pass U.S. bumper standards. And production plans are limited to around 3,000 units a year.
The mid-engined, two-seat Speedster goes on sale in Germany this month. Suggested retail in Germany will be about 60,000 marks, or about $28,500 at current rates.
Both twins, the Speedster and the VX200, are assembled by Group Lotus in Hethel, England. The Speedster/VX220 shares about 10 percent of its components with the Lotus Elise, said Niels Loeb, assistant chief designer for the Speedster.
The Astra Cabrio also goes on sale in Germany this month beginning at 40,800 marks, or just under $20,000. The Cabrio is the latest version of the new-generation Astra that debuted as a sedan and wagon in 1998.
Opel added the Astra-based Zafira mini-minivan in 1999 and an Astra coupe last year.
Italian coach builder Bertone makes the Astra Cabrio and the Astra Coupe. Opel plants in Bochum, Germany, and Antwerp, Belgium, supply Bertone with the stampings. GM supplies the powertrain components.
A power top is the Astra's most notable feature. The folded-down top closes into a hard trunk, similar to the one on the Mercedes SL. An optional, remote-control button raises or lowers the top automatically, with no need to latch or unlatch the manual handle.
Sales are expected to be about 8,000 units this year, growing to about 15,000 in 2002.
The same 2.2-liter four-cylinder is the standard engine in the Speedster, and the top-of-the-line engine in the Cabrio. It is built at GM's Tonawanda plant near Buffalo, N.Y., for Saturn, but GM is installing it in a growing list of Opel models.
GM also is adding capacity this year to produce the 2.2-liter engine in Kaiserslautern, Germany. The all-aluminum four produces 147 hp at 5,800 rpm.
Cabrio buyers also may choose two smaller gasoline engines, a 100-hp, 1.6-liter four, or a 125-hp, 1.8-liter four, built in Brazil.
A four-speed automatic, mated to the 2.2-liter engine, becomes available this fall. Yaw control and traction control come standard in models equipped with the 1.8-liter or 2.2-liter engines.
The Speedster debuted at the 1999 Geneva show as a concept. Another version, nearly identical to the production model, was displayed at last year's Geneva show. It is Opel's first mid-engined sports car, and the first Opel to use aluminum and composite materials for the chassis and body.
It has a top speed of 150 mph.
Opel plans to build only 3,000 a year. The company expects the United Kingdom and Germany to be the biggest-selling markets, at about 1,000 units each annually.
Only about 800 of 3,000 Opel/Vauxhall dealers in Europe will get the car.