Brave Talk From GM in Europe as Insignia Takes Public Bow
By Andy Bannister
The Insignia, which will be badged as a Vauxhall in the United Kingdom and an Opel across the rest of Europe, is being seen by the buying public at the British International Motor Show in London for the first time this week.
It replaces the fairly dull Vectra, the car which inspired the current Saturn Aura. A Saturn version of the new model – made in North America, naturally – seems a certainty.
The new car boats a best-in-class drag coefficient of 0.27 thanks to its smooth silhouette and coupé-like roofline not unlike the new Passat CC.
It’s definitely a huge advance on the Vectra in terms of looks and perceived quality, and should give the latest Ford Mondeo – currently storming ahead in the sales charts – a run for its money, particularly among buyers at fleet companies.
Despite the public fanfare in London, European sales aren’t due to start until the end of the year, and Vauxhall and Opel have plenty of slow-selling Vectras left to offload before then.
Vectra sales have sunk to 140,000 a year and it has been bested recently by the its Ford rival, but this battle is a sideshow compared to the continued market dominance of the VW Passat, which easily outsold the Mondeo and Vectra combined in Europe in 2007.
The Ford may be bucking the trend at the moment but whether the Insignia will live up to GM’s expectations is another matter given the current turbulence in the market. Sales in this segment were falling even before the economic slowdown, and one rival already feeling the cold wind of failure is Renault, which has had to slow production of its latest Laguna, recently also launched with high expectations of grabbing extra sales.
The Insignia is important as GM’s first application of the company’s new Ypsilon 2 architecture. As well as a traditional four-door saloon, the model range includes a five-door hatchback – the favoured configuration of Vauxhall customers in the UK, one of the Insignia’s two biggest markets (the other is Germany).
There will be seven engine options including a brace of frugal diesels available from launch. A roomy estate car version will be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in October .
Badge snobbery means many buyers simply won’t consider the cars anymore, although a glimpse inside the new car reveals an upscale ambience with a hint of Alfa Romeo around the dials.
A previous larger car from GM in Europe, the Omega (which provided the basis for the short-lived Cadillac Catera) went unreplaced a few years ago in the face of apathy and a vanishing customer base.
It seems a dim and distant memory that Opel seriously used to compete with Mercedes and BMW at the very top of the market, and in it heyday in the 1960s and 70s offered a stately coupe and saloon called the Diplomat with a 5.4-litre Chevrolet V8 engine.
Nowadays Saab and Cadillac are supposed to keep the GM flag flying in the lucrative premium sector of the European market, although sadly neither do it very well. The Ypsilon 2 platform will find its way to the Swedes before long and may improve things.
After years of GM ownership Saab is still much misunderstood by many consumers and has consistently underperformed in some continental countries. As for Cadillac, various ham-fisted efforts to establish the marque in Europe have cost GM a small fortune and so far yielded remarkably few sales.
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