Opel Zafira under consideration for Holden range

words - Ken Gratton
Holden to revive people mover name in Australia?
The Opel Zafira is one product from GM's German brand Holden has confirmed it is evaluating for reintroduction to the local market. 

Opel was literally days away from the local launch of the latest generation people mover when the company delivered the shock announcement it would cease to operate in Australia as a vehicle importer, effective immediately. 

Since that announcement rumours have arisen that Holden would take control of selling the remaining Opel stock in Australia, including right-hand drive Zafiras brought here for the launch. Furthermore, Opel itself left the way open for its product to be sold in Australia down the track, but badged as Holdens once more. 

Phil Brook, Executive Director for Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing at Holden, says that Opel product very likely has some part to play in the local market, both in the short term and further into the future. In the short term, the Euro brand's inventory will be sold through Holden dealers, as Brook had previously intimated to motoring.com.au.

"We're deep in the process of doing [that] right now," he said, when asked again at the launch of the updated Colorado and Colorado 7 earlier this week. "The [Opel] network has basically been shut down. We're now in the process of moving the stock that we had. And we're going to do that through Holden dealers."

The process of shedding Opel stock won't happen overnight, says Brook, despite the numbers involved accounting for a small proportion of Holden's normal sales throughput.

"There's less than a thousand cars that we need to move, and we're planning to start that process over the next couple of months..."

Spread across Holden's dealer network, the remaining Opel stock amounts to nothing more than "a handful" of cars each, according to Brook. Some of the cars have been registered and are technically used, but "a lot of them are new." 

As for Opel product permanently joining the Holden range, Brook is more circumspect. 

"Longer term, we're still just taking a look at that," he said. "What we have to do is stuff that's incremental, not business that's going to hurt the Holden business. We're very committed to local manufacturing and making sure our business is viable."

Straight away that puts paid to entry-level Astra models returning to Australia. The potential is simply too great for Astra to eat into Cruze sales. The same would apply to Corsa also.

"Cars like Astra – that are going to compete directly with a Holden model – wouldn't meet the criteria to be implemented. 

"If it's incremental opportunity, we'd look at it. But if it's going to hurt the core Holden business we wouldn't..."

Insignia is another car that looks unlikely to make an encore appearance in Australia – now that Holden has Malibu in its product portfolio. 

"All of that stuff has got to be looked at, they're all the things we need to evaluate. But I think that it would be strange to have two medium-size cars."

Brook also shot down in flames any prospect of selling Opels as an upmarket sub brand in one form or another. 

"No, what we're going to look at is: here's the Holden range, are there holes that we can fill with what's available? Really, no decisions have been made, [there's] a lot of study to be done, and it will take quite a while to run that study and get that into production – if we decided to do anything."

Brook was open to specific variants (like the high-performance Astra OPC and GTC) coming back to Australia. And Cascada – Opel's Astra-based convertible – also has a shot at being launched here as a Holden. 

"Yeah, maybe. You're not going to be selling lots of these niche cars anyway, but from a brand perspective it may actually help."

The Holden exec admits that Zafira is "one of the ones we'd take a look at," based on the Holden range lacking a bespoke people mover. But, cautions Brook, it won't be a massive money spinner for Holden. In year to date sales, fewer than 7000 vehicles sold have been people movers. 

"It's not a big segment... so we've gotta weigh all that up too."

Brook says that Holden will need to move within a two-year timeframe. Key to the plans – and a business case for specific models – will be Opel's respective model life cycles for those models. Holden would be reluctant to import a model near the end of its life. A newer model may actually boost its own local business case, merely by virtue of being newer. Holden will factor that into its assessment of each model, according to Brook.

"Absolutely, where they are in the life cycle..." he said. "Maybe you might look at it and go 'okay, that makes sense, but down the track, rather than now', when the next-generation product comes. 

"That's what we do all the time, with any sort of product program. You're always looking at: can you sell it, can you make money out of it and what's the right time to do it?"

A government website that publishes new models approved in accordance with ADRs (Australian Design Rules) has nominated a number of Opel models deemed fit for local consumption during the period since Opel's departure, suggesting that ADR compliance of Opel models remains on the agenda for GM in Australia. Brook explained that the Opel product's ADR approval was a hangover from the period prior to Opel's closure in Australia. But in any case, ADR certification must remain up to date if Holden is to sell Opels through its dealer network. 

"That was probably in train... before [the announcement] came through," he said, but admitted he was not fully conversant with the procedure for ADR type approval. 

"One of the challenges you have now – and I'm not an expert – is that if you don't have that kind of approval when you register a car, you have to destroy the car."

It's Brook's understanding that the Opels left in dealer stock could not be sold through Holden dealers if the ADR documentation wasn't up to date, which is why the ADR approval process continued beyond the date Opel officially ceased selling cars in Australia. 

Based on Brook's remarks, the OPC and GTC Astras may be on Holden's short list, as may Combo, Cascada and Zafira. But Corsa, mainstream Astra models, Insignia, Mokka and Meriva are looking unlikely for a local launch in Holden guise. Those that don't compete directly with existing Holden models would potentially sell in such small numbers that no business case could be justified. 

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Published : Wednesday, 23 October 2013
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