AMSTERDAM – Opel boosted unit sales and increased its market share in western Europe in the first quarter.
That’s good news for General Motors Europe. Opel, its biggest division, has faced declining sales in recent years and criticism for a poor model mix, bad brand image and quality problems.
Alain Visser, the brand’s marketing director, is confident that Opel will sustain its recent upswing.
“Our market share is up 0.5 percent to 8.5 percent so far this year. It’s pleasing that we have also won sales volume,” said Visser during a visit to Opel’s Dutch dealers.
Opel’s brand image suffered during the 1990s when cost-cutting ordered by parent GM led to lower quality. That hurt the brand, especially in Germany.
The Astra lower-medium car introduced in February 2004 helped the automaker boost sales and regain consumer confidence. In the first quarter, Opel sold 122,204 Astras in western Europe, compared with 135,252 unit for the segment-leading Volkswagen Golf, according to UK-based market researcher JATO Dynamics.
Updating the brand’s lineup should help Opel. A new Zafira medium minivan was introduced in March, the Vectra/Signum upper-medium models get face-lifts in September and a new generation of the Corsa small car comes next year.
Fewer warranty claims
Visser said Opel’s quality also has improved, with warranty claims down 65 percent in the past five years. But he is not complacent.
“Rebuilding our brand image may take longer than the actual sales growth would indicate,” he said.
Dealers are happier with the brand’s lineup and their relationship with Opel.
“Instead of time-consuming training programs to implement brand standards, the focus is now on sales,” said Jaap Timmer, president of the European Opel dealers association.
Visser acknowledged that incentives are driving some sales gains and that has led to price erosion, especially in Germany,
“List prices on new cars have come down 10 percent the last 10 years. But a no-discount policy is wishful thinking,” he said. “Even premium manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes offer incentives.”