The more BEVs the better for Opel
The CEO of the Stellantis German brand is betting big on growing EV adoption to reverse its market share squeeze
“The more customers move to battery electric vehicles, the more Opel benefits and the more Opel grows.” So says Florian Huettl, CEO of the Opel brand of Franco-Italian automaker Stellantis.
It perhaps helps that Huettl, in his mid-40s, is still relatively youthful for a senior executive at a legacy OEM. But he is about as far removed from the stereotypical German auto industry veteran viewing the e-mobility revolution with suspicion as you can get.
And there is also business logic in his pro-BEV outlook. The German marque has a stronger position in BEVs relative to ICEs, thus strength in the former relative to the latter should allow his firm to recapture lost market share.
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The firm is growing its overall sales by 12pc globally so far this year, according to Huettl, but, for BEVs, this growth rate is 34pc. This “makes Opel one of the few brands in Europe which has higher market share in the BEV market than overall”, says the Opel chief.
But, as the wider market continues to rebound from the Covid pandemic and the chip shortage, growing sales does not necessarily translate into growing market share. According to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, or Acea, Opel and its UK sister brand Vauxhall had a 4.1pc share of the EU+Efta+UK car market in 2021, shrinking to 3.8pc in 2022.
And, in the first eight months of 2023, that share had been squeezed slightly more to 3.6pc. But Huettl is confident that Opel can reverse the trend.
“Of course, we are looking to increase our overall market share in Europe,” he says. “We are already more successful in BEVs today than we are in ICE. And this means that, as the BEV market grows and as we are able to follow that, our overall market share will come up.
“That is the logic. As more and more people move to battery electric, Opel will benefit from that because we are over-proportionally strong in the BEV market, Huettl predicts.
One of the factors driving this greater BEV success is higher adoption rates in European countries where Opel and Vauxhall are traditionally strong, such as Germany, the UK and the Netherlands. In contrast, “southern markets are a bit slower, which is incidentally also where our presence is less developed,” Huettl notes.
The firm has a two-stage BEV strategy, initially electrifying its existing “well-known and successful” ICE range on the Stellantis multi-energy platform. It has already launched BEV options for its Astra, Mocha and Corsa models, and will do the same for the Grandland and Crossland next year. “By the end of 2024, every Opel will be available in a full BEV version if the customer wants it,” Huettl says.
There are advantages to this approach — “it has allowed us to be very flexible in the upstream part, in manufacturing,” the Opel chief says. “The battery electric vehicles are built on the same line as the ICE vehicles, which gives you many possibilities to react in the short term should there be any changes in overall demand.”
And it also has benefits on the sales side. “In terms of customer response, it has allowed us to make the transition to BEV quite easy. Because if you go to visit your dealer, and you want to look at a Corsa, it is very easy for the dealer to show you an electric Corsa and then either sell you a BEV one or an ICE one, as you wish,” Huettl continues.
The firm will continue this strategy with model updates, including a new Corsa Electric with a 400km-range battery and a “stronger” drivetrain. And it is also launching the Astra Sports Tourer Electric, which Huettl touts as the first estate BEV made available by a European manufacturer.
“The estate body type has always been important for Opel, so it was clear to us we wanted to have an electric offer there as well,” Huettl says.
But the firm also has a second part to its strategy, which is to develop BEVs from the bottom up. As part of this second step, at the IAA Mobility event in Munich, it showcased the Opel Experiment, which Huettl describes as a “concept car in the traditional Opel sense of the word, which means it really shows what we will be doing in the future".
“From 2025, every new Opel model that we bring to the market will be BEV. What the Experimental shows is what are looking towards,” he says.
“We are working towards full BEV, up to 700km reach, depending on the segment, charging in 25 minutes. We are aiming for best-in-class weight dimensions. And we also give a price, which is about €25,000 without incentives for a B-segment hatchback car like the Corsa. This is where we are heading towards in terms of overall package and efficiency,” Huettl continues.
Opel is aware that the mid-€20,000 market could put it into direct competition with Chinese import ambitions, dependent on how quickly the EU and its member states look to erect greater barriers to retard entry of cheaper Chinese EVs to the continent. “We will certainly face a lot of cost pressure coming from new Chinese competitors,” Huettl says.
His brand will simply need to “work harder to make our BEVs affordable for our European customers and to leverage all the power of the European brand and the innovation of our engineering”.
“Affordability of BEVs clearly is one of the major tasks going forward. That is why we pay so much attention and work so hard to make the next generation of BEVs affordable at around €25,000,” Huettl says.
Interestingly, Huettl was speaking just prior to the announcement by the European Commission of its investigation into potential anti-competitive practices by Chinese OEMs. But the Opel chief was already flagging up one of both the EU and incumbent European OEMs' main concerns, suggesting that the production costs of vehicles from would-be Chinese competitors “maybe include some kind of support or advantage that we cannot have”.
The firm has itself ambitions to grow exports beyond its traditional European heartland.” We have some smaller markets outside of Europe,” the Opel chief says.
“What is common to them is, usually, that they are looking towards German brands and towards electromobility.” In particular, Huettl identifies New Zealand and Taiwan as examples of fertile ground for Opel.