It’s been less than a year since General Motors divested from South Africa, leaving behind some the biggest brands on four wheels. Chevrolet is now lost to local motorists forever, while Opel continues, but under new stewardship.
In global terms, Opel never was the success story GM had hoped for when it took over the German carmaker. Despite some ambitious goals and strategies, the German company’s losses mounted.
By the time GM announced its departure from SA, the US auto giant had already sold its Opel interests to the French PSA Group, producers of Peugeot and Citroën. From and SA point of view, that seemed to leave Opel’s fortunes up in the air.
The good news for Opel fans, and owners of Opel cars, is that the brand is here to stay. It’s now distributed and retailed by Unitrans Motors, a major player in the SA auto retail space.
Brian Hunter, general manager of the newly created Opel division at Unitrans, is under no illusions about how tough the going is likely to be.
“The brand was undermined by persistent rumours that GM was divesting long before the actual announcement last year, which impacted negatively on customer confidence, and unit sales,” he says.
Then, stock of the smaller Crossland X, introduced late in 2017, arrived later than expected, diluting buyer interest generated by the launch hype.
It certainly wasn’t an ideal starting point for the new distributor – and one not made any easier by a new vehicle market that is best described as stagnant, and has declined by some 19 percent in the past five years.
With around 355,000 vehicle sales predicted for 2018, contested by too many brands and models against the backdrop of a volatile economic climate, it’s understandable that Opel’s targets for the remainder of the year are modest, if carefully optimistic.
Hunter expects Opel to achieve at least a 1 percent share of the market this year, which would equate to around 3 500 units. However, he also considers 2018 a consolidation year for the brand, with vital processes being put in place, including Opel Finance, a joint venture with vehicle finance specialist WesBank.
“We now have 35 Opel dealers nationwide, and are in the midst of an upgrade programme to enhance the image, visibility and professionalism of those outlets. We want to reflect how passionate we are about the Opel brand, and will also focus specifically on customer service.”
Which brings us to the Grandland X, Opel’s latest contender in the increasingly crowded and competitive sports utility vehicle (SUV) segment. Launched this week, the Grandland X is what you’d call a compact SUV, competing against the likes of the VW Tiguan, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5.
It’s a segment worth around 2 500 sales monthly, and one of the few that continues to show growth – which makes it an attractive playing field for Opel. The Grandland X won’t just be chasing sales, however: it will also need to act as an ambassador for the brand as a whole.
At face value, the new Opel SUV is among the larger SUVs in its category, an impression underscored by a relatively tall, wide stance and the high, sculpted waistline. Contrasting lower body cladding and alloy scuff plates add some all-terrain attitude.
The front end is unmistakeably Opel, with the lighting bolt logo prominently positioned on a large grille. Slim LED headlights with integrated daytime running lights create a keen, contemporary look.
However, it’s the three-quarter rear perspective that’s perhaps the most distinctive, thanks to a sharply delineated C-pillar, a slanted rear screen, and LED taillight clusters tucked in below an unusually deep tailgate crease.
It’s certainly handsome and individual enough to stand its own in a segment where too many vehicles end up looking much the same.
The interior execution shifts the focus from aesthetics to quality and comfort. The layout is ergonomically sound if a little conventional, relying on large analogue dials in a cluster ahead of the driver, together with a neatly integrated colour touchscreen in the centre stack.
However, what does stand out is an aura of solid quality. The materials look and feel durable, the surfaces and finishes are elegant without resorting to flashy over-exuberance, and the attention to detail is in the premium league.
Doors open and close with the solid thunk that used to be the preserve of upper-end vehicles not that long ago, while the accommodation is spacious front and rear. The boot offers 514 litres of cargo space – partly due to the presence of a space-saver spare wheel.
The Grandland X comes in three spec levels – Baseline, Enjoy and Cosmo – but even the entry-level model gets a comprehensive array of comfort and convenience features.
Full details of what’s standard, and what’s not, for each of the three models wasn’t communicated at the launch earlier this week, but a full infotainment system with Bluetooth, electric windows and mirrors, air-con, remote central locking, and LED lighting all seem to be included across the range.
All three variants share the same drivetrain, though: a 1.6-litre turbo engine, mated to a six-speed auto gearbox driving the front wheels. The lusty four-cylinder mill is good for 121kW and 240Nm.
Those stats should translate into a 9sec 0-100km/h sprint time, with a top speed of around 200km/h – figures similar to those achieved by the Peugeot 3008. That’s not surprising, considering the Grandland X and the 3008 share the same platform and drivetrain.
However, the cosmetic and interior executions of the two models, which were designed concurrently, is sufficiently different to preserve individual identity.
As for pricing, the entry-level Opel Grandland X 1.6T AT retails for R429,000, with the mid-spec 1.6T Enjoy version potentially occupying the sweet spot at R465,000. The top-end 1.6T Cosmo is a full R100k more expensive at R565,000, but is expected tick all the option boxes.
Will the Grandland X be the model to deliver the sales momentum and brand profile Opel needs? I haven’t driven it yet, but at face value, both the vehicle and the pricing seem to suggest so. The sales figures will tell the real story soon enough, though. DM
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