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Opel’s GT Concept may signal design cues of future Opel/Vauxhall models for the mid-2020s. (Opel)

Opel’s revamped engineering mission

When the French Groupe PSA (Peugeot, Citroën, DS Automobiles), took German Opel/Vauxhall off GM’s hands last year for $2.1 billion, PSA stressed it would make great use of the German company’s Rüsselsheim engineering and design capabilities—while ensuring marque and model individuality.

That was in June.

But by July, amid rumors that at least part of Opel’s R&D based at its Engineering Center could be shuttered later in 2018 in a move to reduce overhead, Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller issued a statement to clarify the situation: “Our engineering is, and will stay, at the core of Opel. All future models will be developed here in Rüsselsheim. Furthermore, we are taking over numerous important tasks for the entire Groupe PSA.”

He added that a “clear goal” is to achieve sustainably and successfully position Opel as an “overall company explicitly in engineering.”

Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller.
No escaping realities
But there came a caveat. With the change of ownership from American to French, the workload from GM (currently, the Buick Regal is based on the Opel Insignia, as is the Holden Commodore for Australia) would decrease dramatically over the next few years, said Lohscheller, so various options were being examined to decide how to achieve the Engineering Center sustainability of which Lohscheller spoke. He also stated that strategic partnerships with other companies were being considered as part of those options, stressing that it is not yet clear which options could result in viable solutions, with no decisions yet having been made.

Speculation around all this is that Groupe PSA wants to achieve a sharp focus on engineering and R&D areas that will support a path to profitability, avoiding risky, speculative projects. It may make far more use of small, intellectually and administratively agile consultancies—a path that is looking increasingly tempting to many OEMs as the picture of technology changes with the advent of electrification, autonomy and connectivity.

This could mean embracing specialist companies outside the automotive sector, and further strengthening links with academia. And—surprise—heavier R&D onus could also be shifted to suppliers to fund and prove systems to a far greater degree than at present.

Full clarification of these possibilities will take time to mature. Some progress may be revealed by the end of this year, but in a formal statement, Lohscheller referred to an employment guarantee with German unions lasting until 2023.

Significant engineering programs
Meanwhile, a company spokesperson in Germany confirmed that the June statements detailing what is planned for Opel’s future remain in place.

The first details to emerge came from Christian Müller, Opel’s Managing Director, Engineering, who confirmed that the development of the next-generation of 4-cylinder gasoline engines for all Groupe PSA brands would be the responsibility of the Rüsselsheim Engineering Center. The engines will be optimized for operation in combination with electric motors; market introduction is set for 2022. The new 4-cylinder engine family is destined to be used in all Groupe PSA brands in China and North America as well as Europe.

PSA Group’s multi-energy CMP platform.

The engine announcement is particularly significant and shows confidence in Opel playing a hugely important role within the Franco-German group. “Rüsselsheim had global responsibility for engine development when we were still part of GM,” said Muller. “With the development of the new generation of 4-cylinder gasoline engines, we can exploit one of our key competencies.” The engines will be used in hybrid configuration and will be based on the current all-aluminum PSA PureTech units of 1.6 liters.

Opel emphasizes the “continuous advancement” of all current models and the development of future vehicles and powertrains.  Refinement of the company’s current Small Gasoline Engine (SGE) and Midsize Diesel Engine (MDE) families will continue, notably to ensure their ability to meet tighter emissions standards; they power the Opel/Vauxhall Astra and Insignia models.

New transmissions also are being developed, with dual-clutch automated-manual architecture the favored design, while also incorporating electrification—likely to be 48-volt—to enhance efficiency. Energy recuperation plays a significant part of Opel’s propulsion R&D programs.

The vanguard of the ‘new quality’
Then, a few days after the initial statement, CEO Lohscheller expanded in global engineering terms—and emphasized the words “quality” (something that is taking on new meaning across the auto industry and incorporates premium or semi-premium aspirations) and efficiency.

“We want to build first-class automobiles and also excite our customers through compelling quality,” said Lohscheller, adding that all new Opel/Vauxhall vehicles will be developed in Rüsselsheim, with the Engineering Center playing a key role in the implementation of Groupe PSA’s global growth strategy. Meanwhile, Groupe PSA has established 15 Centers of Competence in Rüsselsheim, which will include R&D on hydrogen fuel cells. The fuel-cell research is particularly interesting in light of Opel’s early involvement in this area, almost 20 years ago showing a development project that included methanol reformers that took up more than half a compact SUV’s interior space.

Although the group’s French brands have made significant strides in terms of reliability and improved quality in recent years, the German dimension will further bolster that, both factually and emotionally.

As for development efficiency, that is focused on fewer but shared platforms and extensively increased vehicle electrification: plug-in or battery power for every Opel/Vauxhall by 2024, the year when Groupe PSA is scheduled to finally fully disconnect from GM.

Opel’s brand future
The plan for Opel (also meaning the U.K.’s Vauxhall, too, its models essentially Opels with a different badge) is to base new models on two modular, multi-energy PSA vehicle architectures—CMP and EMP2—sufficiently flexible in multi-role terms to facilitate brand individuality.

The decision to focus on very few platforms is, as many manufacturers know—notably VW with its wide-ranging modular MQB—a route to cutting costs without the penalty of reducing model choice.
The entire Groupe, then, will use the EMP2 for larger vehicles ranging from convertibles to light commercial vehicles (LCVs); the engineering team in Rüsselsheim now also leads the development of LCVs for Groupe PSA. This includes the development of LCV platforms and modules from advanced development to production maturity.

Vauxhall’s Corsa GTi. The next generation will be electrified.

Engineering boss Müller said: “Hardware, software, the choice of modules, different set-ups and calibration, all help us to create a brand specific character for each and every car. It also permits us to safeguard and further develop the Opel/Vauxhall DNA.”

For smaller vehicles (B and C segments) the CMP platform will see extensive use and Opel’s important new Corsa, due next year and to be built at Zaragoza, Spain, will be based on CMP. The car will offer a pure-electric variant; by 2020, Opel plans to have four electrified vehicle lines. But that is just a beginning: the plan is to electrify all Opel’s passenger car lines by 2024—offering a battery electric vehicle (BEV) or a hybrid version “alongside efficient combustion engines” using multi-energy platforms, stated the company. In parallel with this, LCVs also enter an electrification program starting in 2020.

Usefully, Opel has had access to a raft of electric vehicle experience via its former owner, GM, through the Ampera (Chevrolet Volt) and Ampera-e (Chevrolet Bolt) model lines.

Apart from working on fuel cells, the Centers of Competence at Rüsselsheim will have core roles in various engineering aspects of Groupe PSA’s future. Seats are on the list, for example, and look likely to undergo radical weight saving programs, with no degradation of comfort, adjustability or crashworthiness.

As would be expected, safety development will remain a top priority as Volvo and Mercedes continue to move towards non-fatal and non-serious injury travel.

The Centers of Competence efforts include alternative fuels; manual-transmission systems; geometry, dimensions and tolerances; electromagnetic compatibility; material engineering; test automation; software industrialization. And in manufacturing, automation of quality checks and 3D printing of assembly tools.

And America will play a major role, with the Centers of Competence also focusing on U.S.-market federalization covering both the vehicle itself and the drivetrain.

A crucial new halo?
Although the model ranges of both the French and German elements of Groupe PSA will cover plenty of ground, there is one vehicle type that would help provide a marketing “halo” effect: a sports car. Volumes are necessarily small for what is really a niche product and sports cars in the lower to medium price sector—the Groupe’s heartland—are not easy to establish, particularly against such rivals as the Mazda MX-5 Miata, now in its fourth generation.

But Opel in the late 1960s to early ‘70s did manufacture the storied GT coupe and in 2016 showed its new GT Concept at the Geneva Motor Show. Opel/Vauxhall also sold the Lotus Elise-based Speedster/VX220 minimalist 2-seater from 2001-2005, albeit in low volumes.

Vauxhall XVR concept of 1966.

So the Groupe may surprise and further demonstrate its design flair. Opel retains the Brit Mark Adams as Design vice president; Adams has brought fresh and distinctive styling to Opel/Vauxhall models in recent years. He said after the Lohscheller statements: “Design will be at the heart of everything that we do in future.”

Certainly the GT Concept may give some surfacing indications of mid-2020s models. Including a series production sports car? Much is possible as the newly-configured PAS Groupe gathers momentum, with newly-acquired Opel firmly part of the plan. Continue reading »