Forbes Africa
Published 5 years ago

Keeping up with the international motor industry is a lot more complicated than Keeping Up With The Kardashians – with just as many family squabbles, scandals and break-ups.

Emerging at the top of the family tree is Volkswagen, ending 2016 as the world’s largest automaker with sales of 10.3 million; just a shade more than Toyota. Face-saving news after pleading guilty to three charges in the diesel emissions affair and paying a $4.3-billion fine to settle the US Department of Justice investigation.

And remember the German giant includes Audi, Bentley, Bugatti and Porsche. In turn, Audi owns Lamborghini, and Lamborghini owns Ducati. Yes, it’s complicated.

The number three spot goes to General Motors (GM) – or to be more accurate General Motors Company LLC – emerging with a changed name from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 thanks to a multi-billion-dollar bailout from the US Treasury.

Most of that money has been paid back and a study by the Centre for Automotive Research reveals that the GM bailout saved more than a million jobs and preserved nearly $35 billion in tax revenue.

All of the Big Three made it onto the list of finalists for the South African Car of the Year 2017. Volkswagen with the new Tiguan, the most stylish Passat ever, and the technically supreme Audi A4.

Toyota ticked the right boxes with the rugged yet comfortable Fortuner (the bestselling SUV in the country) and have kick-started 2017 with record sales and the claim that one out of every four new vehicles that found homes at the start of the year was a Toyota or affiliate brand.

GM waded in with the Opel Astra which has been gathering international and local awards along with cousin Corsa.

The voguish Astra won the 2016 European Car of the Year award in one of the toughest automotive battles of the decade and the Corsa 1.0T Enjoy drove off with Compact Hatchback of the Year at the Consumer Awards.

There has been a quiet revolution happening in the ‘more affordable’ car sector over the last couple of years. In essence, it used to be a sector where (and I’m not joking) a passenger airbag was considered to be an optional extra. And ABS was by no means standard!

Now many models hovering around the $25,000 mark boast more standard features than the luxury sedans selling for four times the price tag.

Take the Opel Astra 1.4T Sport. Cruise control, halogen headlights, daytime running lights, tyre pressure monitoring, side blind zone alert, hands free parking and heated sports seats and steering wheel are all included.

And there’s more… the Driver Assist Pack helps to warn drivers of an impending collision, picks up speed restriction signs along with the following distance and automatically throws out emergency anchors to reduce the impact of an unavoidable collision.

While the tech boffins in Stuttgart and Munich seems to be intent on making simple functions like turning down the aircon a life study, the Opels are blessed with IntelliLink – the most amazingly simple communication and media platform. Which complements the modern, free-flowing interior where the instruments are stark and easy to read and the controls are ergonomically excellent – or more simply, right there at your fingertips.

Although the budget hatches seem to be poured out of a common mould, the Astra manages to distinguish itself with a touch of exterior style – in fact the Sport model is quite a stunner.

You don’t have to spend too much time on engine choice. They are all petrol and all turbo charged. Starting with a single liter of displacement, through the 1.4l to the 1.6l manual which has a claimed top speed of 235km/h and hits 100 in less than seven seconds. Youssou N’Dour would be proud.

All very impressive – as it should be. There have been many decades for research and development. The Astra has been around for more than 80 years and sold over 25 million units!

Again it’s one of those intricate family affairs. Production hasn’t been consistent since 1936 and you may be more familiar with the name Kadett. And to complicate things even further, the UK models fall under the Vauxhall banner.

Now the new Opel era beckons. The Rüsselsheim-based carmaker has enjoyed the highest sales in five years with an increase of 46,000 units. The Astra was the main driver of increased sales across Europe, being newly registered more than 285,000 times. Overall Opel managed to increase sales in 18 of 22 markets including Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Poland.

The resurgence of Opel in South Africa is gaining momentum – over the past two years Opel sales have grown by 9.6%, compared to the market decline of 15.5% over this same period.

And no resting on their laurels. Opel is in the midst of the biggest model offensive in its long history and intends bringing 29 new models to market before 2020. Seven of them this year – hence the motto ‘7 in 17’.

“With these seven new models for 2017, Opel will become a completely different brand within the next 12 months,” says Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann. “We are making electro-mobility feasible for everyday driving with the Ampera-e.”

The Ampera-e, introduced at the Paris motor show, is designed to be the compact range champion with the ability to clock up 500 kilometers on a single charge with sports car performance.

Then the flood gates open with the new flagship Opel Insignia Grand Sport, an all-wheel drive sedan with a coupé-like silhouette. The Sports Tourer, the Country Tourer, the Vivaro and the Crossland X – a new stablemate for the Mokka X.

So the future looks bright for Opel, but it may not be with General Motors as parents. They have been in talks for some time with French automakers Peugeot SA (which includes the Citroën brand) and some say it is a done deal which will rock the European industry.

The major concern is that the deal with PSA and BNP Paribas doesn’t introduce any new barriers of additional tariffs in the shadow of Brexit.

With the addition of Opel and Vauxhall, Peugeot SA will become the second largest automotive company in Europe with a market share of 17%.

“We are proud to join forces with Opel/Vauxhall and are deeply committed to continuing to develop this great company and accelerating its turnaround,” said Carlos Tavares, chairman of the Managing Board of PSA

And back in Detroit, despite ending 2016 with $11 billion of cash on the automotive side, the share price took a knock. Why? Well mainly because of President Donald Trump’s threatened wall. A full 14% of vehicles sold in North America are manufactured in Mexico!

Indeed there is more intrigue in the global car field than you will find in the 13th season of the Kardashians… even with Kanye West joining the fray.