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EU approves sale of Opel to PSA Group

The PSA group has secured EU antitrust approval to acquire General Motors’ European division Opel and Vauxhall.

The European Commission concluded the deal did not pose any competition concern, Reuters reports.

PSA strategy director Patrice Lucas described the decision as “an important step” and said that the companies’ teams are now concentrating on fulfilling other conditions necessary to close the deal, expected before the end of the year.

The terms of sale between GM and the PSA Group, which manufactures Citroën, Peugeot and DS-branded vehicles, were finalised on March 7 after weeks of negotiations.

The European company was valued at $3.4 billion, and the acquisition of Opel/Vauxhall gives PSA a 17 per cent share of the auto industry in Europe.

The merger means research and development and manufacturing costs will be slashed for the struggling German car maker, and PSA expects the Opel/Vauxhall division will reach a two per cent operating margin by 2020.

The Holden brand, also owned by GM, was not part of the sale. PSA has said the existing supply agreements between the Australian marque and Opel, who manufactures the Holden Astra and will begin manufacturing the Commodore from early 2018, will continue.

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Opel CEO resigns

Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller

Opel is losing its CEO just two months after being sold by General Motors to the PSA Group.

Karl-Thomas Neumann resigned on Monday, and Reuters reports that Volkswagen is rehiring the executive, who formerly worked as a division manager.

“The prospects are good that he will move to Volkswagen,” said Bankhaus Metzler analyst Juergen Pieper. “He’s one of Germany’s most distinguished car managers and VW is in great need for excellent people.”

“Under Neumann’s leadership we have made enormous progress in turning around Opel,” said GM president Dan Ammann. Neumann, who took the reins in 2013, is credited for turning around Opel’s fortunes and restoring its image and reputation. The next CEO will be current finance chief Michael Lohscheller.

GM announced the sale of struggling car maker to the PSA Group for $3.3 billion in March 2017. The deal was reached on the condition that Opel reach an ambitious two per cent operating margin in 2020, up to six per cent by 2026.

The sale of Opel includes the British-made Vauxhall marque. While Opel currently manufactures the GM-owned Holden Commodore and Astra, the Australian brand was not part of the sale, and  existing supply agreements will continue.

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PSA commits to GM marques

Opel has committed to building GM-branded vehicles in its German factories for the foreseeable future, following the sale of Opel and Vauxhall to PSA Group last month.

Workers at Opel’s factory on Russelsheim, Germany, were told that PSA will be locked in to producing vehicles based on GM platforms for a number of years, Reuters reports. Buick was singled out as an ongoing commitment by the French car maker.

The Opel/Vauxhall group is set to be consolidated into Adam Opel GmbH, a limited liability company which will “lead to a less complex organisational structure,” Opel said.

“The successor of the Mokka X will be built in Eisenach from 2019. A large SUV will be produced in Ruesselsheim as of the end of the decade,” Opel said in a statement last night.

“In addition, investments are also confirmed for exports of sister products for another GM brand from these plants.”

The Opel/Vauxhall group is set to be consolidated into Adam Opel GmbH, a limited liability company which will “lead to a less complex organisational structure,” Opel said.

The Russelsheim factory is also the site of production for the Opel Insignia, which is badged as the Buick Regal in the US and the Holden Commodore in Australia and New Zealand. While the future of the Commodore is uncertain, PSA’s investment into GM-branded products at Russelsheim suggests that production will continue at in Opel’s German factory for some time.

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Tourer joins Commodore line-up

The Tourer has joined the Commodore range and is set to debut in 2018. It’s the third model confirmed in the next-generation line-up, following the NG sedan (based on the Opel Insignia) and the Sportwagon.

New European manufacturer Opel continues to influence the design of the 2018 Commodore range, Holden said, with the Tourer silhouette borrowing from the executive Opel Monza concept car, first produced in 1978.

Although powertrain specifications are yet to be released, it’s expected the Tourer will contain the same engine options as the Sportwagon and NG, which include a V6 petrol engine generating 230kW and 370Nm of torque, and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine available in petrol and diesel.

The Commodore Tourer comes with a high-tech AWD system and also lets customers select specific driving modes, giving them the flexibility to be able to get off the beaten track,” said managing director of Holden New Zealand, Kristian Aquilina. The all-wheel drive Tourer also contains a ‘Sport’ driver mode, which adjusts the calibration of the steering, AWD and transmission for sportier driving experience.

The new crossover wagon will be 110mm longer than the Commodore NG and 20mm longer than the Sportwagon, with an additional 20mm ground clearance.

Driver assistance systems include autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, speed-limit cruise control, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward collision alert, side blind-zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert.

Further details on pricing and a launch date are forthcoming.

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France closes Opel investigation

French regulator DGCCRF closed its investigation into diesel emissions by Opel cars overnight and said it would take no further action against General Motors.

The probe “did not bring to light any evidence of fraud,” the government bureau said in a statement.

Questions around Opel (and its British counterpart Vauxhall) have been swirling since the Volkswagen scandal first broke in September 2015. In October 2015, German environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe claimed that testing showed the 1.6-litre diesel Opel Zafira exceeded 2014 EU emissions thresholds under certain circumstances.

The following May, a joint investigation between Der Spiegel and German news programme monitor suggested a number of Zafira and Insignia diesel models to contain devices that would deactivate filtration systems.

The German transport ministry demanded answers from General Motors and Opel, who vehemently denied any wrongdoing. In response, Opel published a lengthy report explaining how and why the software uncovered by the investigation was technically legal under EU emissions regulations.

Last month, Opel was sold to PSA Group, which includes the Citroen and Peugeot marques, as GM sought to extricate itself from its struggling European holdings.

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New Opel Insignia debuts at Geneva

The next-generation Opel Insignia Grand Sport and Grand Tourer debuted at the Geneva Auto Show, giving New Zealand drivers a glimpse into the Holden Commodore’s future under the German nameplate.

The Insignia range will feature under different nameplates worldwide; the Opel Insignia in Europe, the Vauxhall Insignia in the United Kingdom, the Buick Regal in the United States, and the Holden Commodore in Australia and New Zealand.

The Insignia is inspired by the 2013 Opel Monza concept, and GM Australia Design Director, Richard Ferlazzo, said the European team worked closely with the GM Australia team to create a vehicle silhouette reminiscent of a Commodore.

“We’ve been in discussions with Mark’s Opel team for a long time and have made sure the Commodore DNA is strong in the car,” Ferlazzo said. “Commodore influence is also strong for the interior.”

Engine options for the Insignia begin with a 1.5-litre turbo petrol producing 103kW of power and 250Nm of torque, and stretch up to a 2.0-litre turbo petrol generating 191kW and 400Nm of torque. Opel engineers and executives have promised the Holden Commodore range will contain the flagship V6 engine when it arrives in Australia and New Zealand.

The Insignia is available in both sedan and sportwagon body styles, and features various driver assistance systems, including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, speed limit cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, forward collision alert, side blind-zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert.

The next-generation Holden Commodore will go on sale in New Zealand next year.

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PSA and GM to confirm sale of Opel

General Motors and France’s PSA group is set to hold a joint press conference in Paris tonight, where it is expected the sale of Opel to PSA will be confirmed.

Reuters reported the deal had won PSA board approval, which includes the French government, the Peugeot family, and Chinese car maker Dongfeng, on Saturday.

Negotiations had been hampered over a $14.2 billion pension deficit in the Opel company, and demands by GM that a PSA-owned Opel be barred from competing against GM’s own Chevrolet line-up in certain markets.

However, sources told Reuters on Thursday the non-compete issues and pension deficit had been resolved, with GM agreeing to boost its funding injection into the pension plan.

The acquisition of Opel will make PSA, which currently manufactures Peugeot, Citroen and DS cars, the second-largest car maker in Europe after Volkswagen.

Both PSA and GM confirmed talks were underway last month over the sale of Opel and the British Vauxhall brand, which sparked discussion and concern over possible job cuts and factory closures. Opel and Vauxhall currently employ 38,000 people in the UK and Germany. PSA said it would honour existing manufacturing contracts that run through to 2020.

The acquisition of Opel comes after GM reported a 16th consecutive loss for its European manufacturing arm.

According to Reuters, PSA CEO Carlos Tavares also told his board that PSA would redevelop the Opel line-up with its own technologies to achieve rapid savings for the brand. PSA avoided bankruptcy in 2014 by selling 14 per cent stakes of the company to the French government and Dongfeng.

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PSA sets targets for Opel merger

French manufacturer PSA Group expects the purchase of General Motors’ Opel division to lead to combined sales of 5 million vehicles by 2022, and could save up to $2.9 billion dollars annually, sources told Reuters. A deal could be finalised as soon as early March.

PSA and GM confirmed negotiations last week. The acquisition of Opel would make PSA group the second-largest European car maker, based on sales, after the Volkswagen group.

The targeted savings will come from purchasing and research and development, the sources claimed. New Opel models, such as the popular Corsa mini, could be brought into Peugeot’s development and manufacturing division to reduce duplication.

The merger is concerning for the 38,000 people employed in GM’s Opel and Vauxhall plants in Germany and Britain.

“PSA Group reaffirmed its commitment to respect the existing agreements in the European countries and to continue the dialogue with all parties,” the car maker said in a statement on Tuesday.

Exane BNP Paribas analyst Dominic O’Brien said the $2.94 billion savings could mean the eventual elimination of up to 6000 jobs. “The most obvious starting point for any restructuring, of course, lies with labour,” he said.

Current GM contracts guarantees the plant will run until 2019-20.

While no Opel-badged cars are currently imported into New Zealand commercially, Opel is set to manufacture the Holden Commodore in its German factories from 2018 onwards.

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