PALERMO, Italy - To boost the image of its lineup, General Motors is expanding its range of Opel Performance Center vehicles.
GM will extend its OPC high-performance package to include nearly all of its Opel models within the next two years.
"On the product front, we want people to take Opel seriously as a dynamic brand and we think we can convey that in more of our products," said Mark Adams, GM Europe's director of exterior design, during the press introduction of the Astra, Zafira and Vectra OPC vehicles.
Opel executives say the expansion of the OPC lineup will provide the image boost the brand needs. By creating halo vehicles for each model, Opel hopes to inject a dose of excitement into its cars while further distancing itself from quality problems that plagued the brand during the 1990s.
"In the public's mind, the brand image of Opel has become far too technical," says Arndt Ellinghorst, an auto analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in Frankfurt. "They need to bring back more emotion and a stronger character."
Currently Opel offers OPC versions of its Astra lower-medium car and Zafira medium minivan. The third-generation Astra OPC and second-generation Zafira OPC models go on sale this month. OPC variants of the upper-medium Vectra five-door hatchback and Vectra Caravan station wagon will also expand the lineup this month.
Opel executives say GM will introduce an OPC version of its Meriva small minivan this year and Corsa small-segment car in 2007. The automaker is also considering an OPC version of its GT roadster and Antara GTC medium SUV.
The GT roadster will be imported into Europe from the US. Production is scheduled to begin next year in GM's Wilmington, Delaware, assembly plant. The Antara GTC will be built by GM Daewoo in Korea with production starting in the fourth quarter of 2006.
Opel sought AMG-style boost
When Opel launched the OPC version of its Astra in 1999 the intention was to boost the overall image of the brand in the same way AMG provided a performance character for Mercedes-Benz. GM's goals haven't changed.
"We want halo vehicles for the Opel brand," Adams said.
One vehicle that won't fit into the OPC lineup is: the upper-medium Signum. Adams said Opel does not intend to offer the Signum in a high-performance OPC package.
The Astra OPC and Zafira OPC come with a 240hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. The Vectra and Vectra Caravan OPC have a 255hp, 2.8-liter, V-6 turbocharged engine.
GM hopes to produce 2,200 units per year of the Opel Zafira, 2,600 Vectras and 3,500 Astras, with the volume split between Germany, the UK and Switzerland.
GM only produced 3,000 of its 1999 Astra OPC and 3,500 of its second-generation Astra OPC. A surprise hit was the first-generation Zafira OPC of which GM produced 12,000 units.
The base Astra OPC is priced at E28,000, while the Zafira's pricing starts at E32,500. The Vectra OPC is priced at E37,800 for the sedan and E38,600 for the wagon.
Opel's sister brand in the UK, Vauxhall, uses the VXR label for OPC models.