Don't be so quick to consign Vauxhall/Opel to the history books. Its R&D HQ is busy bringing new tech to the mass market. By Jake Groves
CARS HAVE BEEN designed, developed and built in Opel’s home city of Riisselsheim, near Frankfurt, since 1899 - and the recent change of ownership from General Motors to French giant PSA won’t end that.
PSA has its own R&D set-up, but has no intention of jettisoning Opel/Vauxhall’s decades of expertise at a time when it can help PSA innovate and evolve into a future mobility provider.
Under General Motors, Riisselsheim developed new engine ranges, platforms and alternative powertrain options - not to mention 80 per cent of the seats used in current GM models, including the award-winners used in the latest Insignia and soon to spread to other cars too.
‘The R&D centre is going through intensive change, with less complexity and more efficiency. This is anything but easy, because we are basically questioning everything: all structures, all habits, all processes,’ says Christian Muller, Opel’s VP for engineering. ‘We are keeping the best. We adapt - or we radically change - the rest.’
Opel/Vauxhall is drastically reducing the number of platforms and engines used. Its next generation will be built on just two platforms, both already in use within PSA, because they are hugely flexible. The CMA platform that underpins the Peugeot 208 and Citroen C3, for example, will serve the next Corsa due in 2019. ‘We managed to develop the next generation of cars in record time, and at much lower cost,’ added Muller. Development costs have dropped by between 20 and 50 per cent, depending on the model, due to the platform sharing.
Powertrains - both combustion-based and alternative - are taking up some of Riisselsheim’s time, too. The centre has history with GM’s HydroGen development cars and intends to continue to explore hydrogen, giving the PSA family options beyond battery-electric and plug-in hybrid. BEVs and PHEVs are coming in the shape of a Corsa EV in 2020 and a Grandland X PHEV in 2019, and mild hybrid engine tech in the form of an ‘e-DCT’ transmission due in 2022.
That’s not the only key responsibility that Riisselsheim will be taking on for the entire PSA Group. There are 15 ‘Centres of Competence’, ranging from seating to 3D printing to seatbelts. ‘We are pleased that our highly qualified engineers in Germany will assume essential tasks for the entire company going forward - they will contribute to the success of all five brands within Groupe PSA,’ says Gilles Le Borgne, PSA’s executive VP for quality and engineering.
And contrary to the widespread assumption that future Vauxhalls will be barely distinguishable from Peugeots and Citroens, Opel’s CEO Michael Lohscheller promises that all future Opels and Vauxhalls will still be engineered to some degree in Riisselsheim, and insists there won’t be any badge engineering.