GM Assigns Compact Opel Astra Sizable Task

To underscore the importance of the new Astra to Opel’s fortunes, General Motors CEO Mary Barra is expected to join Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann for its premiere at the Frankfurt auto show.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

August 31, 2015

6 Min Read
Redesigned Opel Astra bows at next monthrsquos IAA
Redesigned Opel Astra bows at next month’s IAA.

When the redesigned Opel Astra officially launches at the Frankfurt auto show next month, the automaker’s traditionally best-selling model in Western Europe will be tasked with pushing its turnaround plan over the goal line.

To underscore the importance of the new Astra to Opel’s fortunes, General Motors CEO Mary Barra is expected to join Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann for its premiere.

Such star power is well-deserved. The 11th-generation Opel hatchback and wagon, which traces its roots to the Kadett line of the 1930s, has accounted for 24 million units of production during its run. Together with the Corsa small car, it is a pillar of GM’s turnaround plan for Opel.

“With each Kadett generation, Opel made individual mobility accessible to millions of people around the world, and several generations of Astra have brought innovative technologies from the upper class into the affordable compact segment,” Neumann said at the car’s initial unveiling in June as a fully camouflaged engineering prototype.

“Each generation has raised the bar in safety, comfort and efficiency. The new Astra will once again set standards in the compact class,” he said.

The new Astra certainly sets a new standard for itself. The car boasts cutting-edge connectivity, such as OnStar for the first time, a sharp exterior design, interior roominess, a suite of efficient powertrains and an engaging chassis underpinning a body upwards of 440 lbs. (200 kg) lighter than its predecessor.

GM global product development chief Mark Reuss told WardsAuto earlier this month that the car’s athleticism would be best-in-class.

So attracting consumer attention should not be a problem. The competition, however, will be a severe challenge, and buyer demands for profit-chopping discounts in the segment remain strong.

Tim Urquhart, an IHS analyst in London, agrees the importance of the new Astra to Opel and GM Europe’s comeback from a string of financial losses dating back to 1999 cannot be overstated. He likes the design and engineering of the new car, too, but warns the competition will be fierce.

“It (competes) in one of the most crowded and competitive regional segments in terms of the Western European market,” Urquhart writes in a research note. “It is being launched into a market which is addicted to offering massive discounts and incentives in order to maintain and push volumes, especially in terms of mid-market brand sales.

“This has had the effect of depressing profitability of the European operations of most mid-market OEMs, although Opel would jump at being able to generate any kind of profit from its European operations,” he offers.

The big cheese in the segment is the Volkswagen Golf, a global titan that last year laid claim to 492,399 sales and a 17.0% segment market share in Western Europe, according to JATO. That’s more than twice the deliveries of the No.2 player, the Ford Focus. The Astra finished a distant No.6 on sales of 163,391 units and a 5.7% segment share.

The new Astra, which goes on sale later this year, must move up in its segment to solidify Opel’s turnaround, a $5.2 billion bid from GM underpinned by 23 new products and 13 new powertrains with an eye to restored profitability next year.

Urquhart forecasts “a strong uplift” from the redesigned model, bit also warns, “It looks very much business as usual for the new Astra and whether this will be enough to help GM Europe into the black remains to be seen.”

Inside Out Redesign

The redesigned Astra rides on GM’s all-new global compact car platform, D2XX, making it between 260 and 440 lbs. (120-200 kg) lighter than its predecessor depending on the trim level. The car owes its weight loss to extensive use of lightweight high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel, a compact subframe and lighter front and rear axles.

“Our engineers developed it from the proverbial white sheet of paper,” Neumann says.

Opel promises the changes will result in a more agile, comfortable car that is responsive, corners well and provides a “direct overall driving experience.”

A fresh powertrain lineup includes an all-new 1.4L turbocharged Ecotec 4-cyl. with gasoline direct injection. The all-aluminum engine makes 150 hp and 181 lb.-ft. (245 Nm) of torque. Fuel economy is estimated at a peak 48 mpg (4.9L/100 km) with carbon-dioxide emissions of 114 g/km.

Christian Müller, vice president-powertrain engineering at GM Europe, says the engine embodies the attributes of powerful, efficient and cultivated.

“The unit is not only environmentally friendly but also sets new standards in driving comfort,” he adds.

A 95-hp, 1.6L 4-cyl. turbodiesel also will be available and the base engine is a 105-hp 1.0L 3-cyl. gasoline unit.

The new Astra will fit comfortably inside the footprint of the outgoing model, which bucks the industry trend of successive generations of a car getting larger, but gains interior room. The distance between the front and rear seats is increased and second-row legroom grows 1.4 ins. (35 mm).

A minimalist approach was taken to the use of knobs and switchgear, and the IntelliLink infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is available.

The Astra ushers to market the OnStar telematics system in Europe. GM’s safety, security and concierge service also enables a 4G LTE mobile Wi-Fi hotspot that accommodates up to seven devices.

The Astra leads a portfolio-wide rollout as the first all-new Opel to receive the technology. It is available now on the Insignia, Mokka and Zafira Tourer in select markets. Eventually, Opel OnStar will enter 13 markets in the region.

An innovative seat design promises improved comfort for a broader range of passenger sizes, and the ergonomic design earned a seal of approval by an association of doctors and experts dedicated to preventing back problems. Heated and cooled options are available, too, as is a massage feature.

“Seating is among the most important elements in a vehicle as it delivers safety, comfort and design,” says Charlie Klein, vice president-vehicle engineering at Opel. “It is one of the reasons we place such a high priority, with the support of our (suppliers), on the development of our seating systems.”

The exterior of the Astra employs an evolved “Sculptural Artistry Meets German Precision” design philosophy of Opel, underscored by the automaker’s “Opel Blitz” badge at the center of the grille and the brand’s characteristic “blade” relief sweeping to the rear of the car. The headlamps flow seamlessly into the grille and front side panels, and blacked-out C-pillars create the impression of a floating roof.

An all-new IntelliLux LED lighting technology bows on the Astra. Each front lamp consists of eight LED segments and the matrix of light automatically and constantly adapts the distribution  length of the light to every traffic scenario.

Working with a front-mounted camera, the system’s glare-free high beams are automatically switched on upon exiting an urban area and remain activated until oncoming traffic or a new driving zone is detected. At that time, the system will shut down the appropriate LEDs and cut out an area around the approaching vehicle but keep the rest of the roadway and surrounding area brightly illuminated.

Opel says IntelliLux LED technology will last longer than halogen or xenon and durability is expected to increase because it eliminates mechanical movements inside the lamp housing.

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