GM Shows New Vauxhall and Chevrolet Models Ahead of Paris Debuts
By Chris Haak
GM’s main brand in Europe, Opel, has really been struggling for the past few years. In spite of critical acclaim for many of its new models, including the awarding of the then-new Opel Insignia (known in the US as the Buick Regal) as the European Car of the Year. Unfortunately for GM, the financial uncertainty surrounding Opel until fairly recently has put a damper on sales. Opel’s sales, particularly in Germany, are down further than the overall market, with the result being market share losses. Ominous signs, to be sure, and many – including us – are questioning whether GM’s turnaround plan will do enough to stem the bleeding and get Opel on Old World consumers’ radars again.
Following the launch of the Insignia, the follow-up act was the new Astra. The Astra has been for sale in Europe for several months, but the car’s lineup is not yet as full as it had been during the car’s previous generation. GM is aiming to partially rectify that situation with a sleek three-door sport hatch set to make its debut at the Paris Motor Show. Called the GTC Paris concept, the attractive compact coupe builds upon the Insignia’s and four-door Astra’s design cues, including the upswept “blade” on the car’s flanks. The concept car has giant 21-inch wheels and a 2.0 liter gasoline direct injection four cylinder under its hood. While the car is likely demonstrating 90 percent or more of what a production Astra GTC would look like, the wheels are likely to be downsized, the LED lighting likely cut, and the engine may remain intact in one form or another.
In the US, Buick is getting a far more sedate version of this car, to be called the Verano. However, the Verano will be a traditional three-box sedan (albeit somewhat swoopy, with a Regal-lite design) with a regular trunk when it hits these shores. Pulling the entry level Buick to a C-segment sedan for the first time since the demise of the Skylark is already potentially stretching the brand a bit far; I suppose that asking for a Buick-badged high-performance compact hatch along the lines of a Volkswagen GTI or MazdaSpeed3 would be asking a bit much. What would Aunt Myrtle say, after all? Regardless, consumers in Europe should see a shapely new entrant, with bona fide performance chops, in Vauxhall and Opel showrooms sometime in the next 12 months. GM promised to release more details about this car as the auto show debut date approaches.
Meanwhile, GM’s everyman brand, Chevrolet, showed what appear to be Photoshopped images of its upcoming Aveo subcompact. Like the current Aveo sold in the US, the 2012 model was engineered by Daewoo in Korea. However, the 2012 car is built on a new platform, called Gamma to continue GM’s fascination with the Greek alphabet (joining Alpha, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Kappa, Lambda, Sigma, and Theta). Also, the 2012 Aveo will be built in the US, and not imported from Korea as the car has been for its entire time on the US market.
The new Aveo, like other recent Chevrolets such as the Malibu and Cruze, shifts a bit upscale, and is clearly aimed at younger buyers. The exterior is no longer dorky-looking, and the car’s upsized wheels and nicely-creased sheetmetal give the new Aveo a modern, sporty look absent from GM’s smallest US-sold models since the dawn of time. Though the 2012 car’s headlights have an angry shape, I’ll take angry any day over nerdy. Though GM didn’t reveal interior photos, the company did release B-roll videos that made their way onto YouTube via Sports Car Illustrated, and show the car’s instrument panel. Like the car’s exterior, the interior appears to have made the transition from dowdy to interesting, with a motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster that features a circular tach and a digital speedometer and auxiliary gauge package. Unlike these other vehicles, the 2012 Aveo will be sold in the US.
Another Paris debut coming in November from GM is the production version of the Chevrolet Orlando seven-seat crossover. The Orlando, which shares the Delta II architecture with the Chevrolet Cruze and Opel Astra, made its concept debut in Paris two years ago, was originally too be produced and sold in the US, but GM reversed course, and it will not reach the US. Canada, however, remains a possibility. The production Orlando takes the most interesting aspects of the concept’s design, such as its darkened roofline, cleanly-shaped taillamps, and two-tone paint scheme. The production car looks like a boring two-box version of the Traverse, and has become nearly a cynical creation of a stereotypical low-cost people-mover. Sort of a Chevy-badged Kia Rondo, if you will.
And finally, speaking of cynical designs, GM is showing an updated version of its non-US Chevrolet Captiva crossover. The Captiva shares its basic Theta platform with the North American Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain, as well as the Europe-sold Opel Antara (which itself is a Saturn Vue with different badges). In an attempt to bring the Captiva in line with Chevrolet’s horizontal split-grille design language that’s featured on the Aveo and Cruze – among others – GM has created what looks to be the love child between an unloved Chevy Uplander minivan and the former decent-looking Capitva. (photos of both can be found in the gallery below). Similar to Ford’s problem of abundance with crossovers in the US, GM has quite the lineup of people movers availalable in Europe, all no more than a half-size apart. Offerings include the Opel Meriva, Chevy Orland, Opel Antara, and Chevy Captiva.
Let’s hope that GM’s current marketing troops do a better job of positioning these vehicles in the market and relative to one another. The lessons of the past decade, which came to a head in the 2009 GM bankruptcy, are that it is important to have products that compete against other companies’ products, and not your own.