Opel (Germany)

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Opel is General Motors' main car-making subsidiary in continental Europe, and the group's largest division outside North America. It operates in the UK under the name Vauxhall with a virtually identical model range. The business has been plagued by problems for two decades. Opel is currently the weakest of Germany's five heritage brands, sitting behind Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW and Audi, and repeated attempts to turn performance around have so far failed to deliver lasting results. The global economic crisis of 2008 came close to forcing GM to cut loose its ailing subsidiary altogether. As GM itself struggled on the brink of bankruptcy, Opel too faced collapse unless it received emergency funding from national governments in the various European markets in which it operates. A draft deal was agreed to sell majority control of the business to Russian and Canadian investors. Yet after months of drawn-out negotiations, that plan was abruptly cancelled by GM's board just days before signature. Instead GM vowed to keep hold of the business, with the hope of achieving a slow but steady recovery. However, years later, only a minimal turnaround had materialised. In a dramatic new turn of events, GM agreed in 2017 to sell Opel to rival PSA of France for a rock-bottom €2.2bn.

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Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 23rd November 2017: PSA Groupe has consolidated media for its newly acquired Opel and Vauxhall car businesses with Mediacom, which won the Peugeot and Citroen accounts across Europe earlier this year. Carat had handled Opel and Vauxhall for more than a decade. Billings are estimated at around €300m.

Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Sep 2017: Tina Mueller, arguably the single most high-profile automobile marketer in Europe, is departing Opel following its acquisition by PSA Peugeot Citroen. She has accepted a position as CEO of pharmacy and beauty retailer Douglas. Her duties at Opel will be split between three current deputies, Tobias Gubitz (strategy & communication), Bjoern Ostendorff (digital and media) and Andreas Marx (product marketing). Peter Kuespert is group managing director of Opel, with additional responsibility for sales & marketing.

Adbrands Weekly Update 3rd Aug 2017: A new auto giant is born. PSA Groupe of France completed the acquisition this week of GM Europe, adding the Opel and Vauxhall brands to its stable alongside Peugeot, Citroen and DS. "We are witnessing the birth of a true European champion today," said PSA CEO Carlos Tavares. "We will assist Opel and Vauxhall’s return to profitability and aim to set new industry benchmarks together. We will unleash the power of these iconic brands and the huge potential of its existing talents. Opel will remain German, Vauxhall will remain British." PSA leapfrogs Renault to become the undisputed #2 in the European car market with around 17% regional share. Volkswagen still leads the pack with over 23% of new registrations, while Renault has 10.5%.

Adbrands Weekly Update 15th Jun 2017: The sale of GM's Opel and Vauxhall businesses in Europe is proceeding at rapid speed. Completion was originally expected by the end of the year, but could now take place as soon as July 31st, said GM this week. Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann announced that he will stand down as soon as the sale has been completed. His successor will not be marketing chief Tina Mueller, as several German business sources had speculated, but CFO Michael Lohscheller.

Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Mar 2017: It's a deal. In an end of an era moment, GM has agreed to sell its European automobile division, and associated financial services operations, to PSA Group of France, makers of Peugeot and Citroen. Rumours of negotiations first surfaced two weeks ago. PSA is paying a rock-bottom €1.3bn for the still-struggling Opel business in continental Europe and somewhat healthier Vauxhall unit in the UK. It's a bargain price for a business that generated sales of almost $19bn last year. Better still for PSA, only half of that sum is being paid now in cash, with the rest in warrants to acquire around 4.2% of PSA's equity in five years' time. PSA is teaming up with French bank BNP Paribas to acquire the finance business for an additional €900m in cash. The price is a measure of GM's eagerness to offload its European division, which has racked up losses of over $15bn in the past two decades. In addition, GM will take a charge of as much as $4.5bn to cover impairments and some of its European pension obligations. That's thought to include a €3bn payment to PSA to cover some of the shortfall in Opel's pension fund. On a net basis, therefore, GM is effectively paying PSA around €800m to take Opel off its hands. The sale will bring to an end GM's turbulent 90-year involvement in the world's third biggest car market, while also elevating PSA into the #2 spot in the region behind Volkswagen. The question is whether PSA, itself only now just around the corner after years of difficulties of its own, can make the deal work. It has promised to preserve Opel/Vauxhall's manufacturing commitments across Europe for five years, but at some point the axe might need to fall to improve profitability. PSA CEO Carlos Tavares also plans to make use of spare capacity at Opel's plants to boost exports beyond Europe, primarily into Latin America, North Africa and parts of Asia.

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