Release of the Crossland X is a perfect symbol of Opel/Vauxhall’s new times
All-new compact crossover marks Opel’s departure from its own naming structure, the minivan category, and even GM’s project-sharing policy (article originally written on January 20th)
Yes, the crossover frenzy strikes again. Opel/Vauxhall has been failing to generate profit over the past few years, so General Motors had to design a complex, long-term strategy to make things run smoothly once again. One of the most important moves was to remove the Chevrolet brand from European markets, in order to avoid internal competition. Another one was to rebuild Opel’s image — along with that of its British sibling — as to make it attractive to new and young customers as well as to retain those from the opposite groups.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned image problem was not the only one Opel had to solve. The release of the Crossland X is one of the first results of dealing with issues which have two other origins: the recent decline of the minivan segment, and some differences between markets in Europe and elsewhere which would be impossible to overlook. Understanding these three problems is the best way to get a grasp on the situation through which Opel was going… and to fully appreciate the characteristics of its newest automobile.
Opel’s latest heyday occurred in the 1990s. Back then, its lineup was not excellent at design, efficiency, safety or technology, but did very well at all of them — which, for a generalist company, is even better. The cars released afterwards were still great, in the majority, but not with the same balance. At some point, Opel returned to the standards of its competitors, and that made it favorable for its sales to lower. The only way to make it truly competitive again was to shake off the past, and face the public with an entirely revamped image.
The second problem is widely known. Minivans have always been praised for making increasingly better use of their internal space. However, they are also considered ugly, boring to drive, and excessively associated to everyday chores. As soon as their level of practicality started to be replicated inside the imponent and stylish exterior of crossovers, the migration became massive. The negative impact was bigger on Opel, Peugeot/Citroën and Renault, which invested a lot to make minivans their main offering to families in the 2000s.
Last, but not least, there is a regional issue. Automobiles with main focus on practicality, such as station wagons and minivans, are popular only in Europe. And compact automobiles which have refined construction and equipment lists comparable to those of more expensive models are also an almost exclusively European favorite. Models which represent the intersection of those market niches, such as Opel’s Meriva, have strong competition in Europe, and would always be considered too small and/or too expensive in other regions. Their potential sales figures are becoming less and less attractive to this industry as the years pass.
The Crossland X was released as Opel’s response to all that. It will replace the Meriva after fifteen years and two generations, and sit (slightly) above the recently-updated Mokka X in the lineup. The company has already confirmed the arrival of the bigger brother Grandland X soon, but it is not known yet if it will sit below the Zafira or replace it. Going back to the newcomer, what does it have to address such complex issues?
The new image Opel sculpted for itself begins with the very name of its cars. “Crossland” is not ended in “A” or “O”, while the “X” associates it with the other crossovers. When it comes to the design, the silhouette resembles minivans’ on purpose, because this car is supposed to be a practical alternative to the Mokka X, but the details make the overall result much cooler: the plastic cladding reduces size impression, the chrome strip above the windows lends elegance, and giving the roof a contrasting color creates the “floating roof” effect. All paired to Opel’s brand new style identity, which was designed to look more dynamic and imponent.
Releasing this vehicle as a new Meriva would only confuse the public, especially considering that Opel is trying to reinvent itself. The aforementioned design traits were used to classify the Crossland X as a compact family crossover. This means it should still benefit from the category’s buzz, but taking those customers who want something roomier and slightly fancier than the Mokka X, but without taking the leap to the midsize category. It is very likely that Opel will employ visual personalization to attract customers to the former without taking them from the latter, pretty much like what it already does with the superminis Adam and Karl.
When it comes to the financial risk, the most obvious solution was to execute this project with a partner. Since those regional issues would make it difficult for Opel to work with any other GM brand, it turned to one of its competitors: the Crossland X sits on a platform which was co-developed by Peugeot/Citroën. It will also underpin the upcoming generations of the Peugeot 2008 and the Citroën C3 Picasso, which are respectively a crossover, and a minivan which will go through a similar process to be transformed into a crossover. However, the similarities will be restricted to the mechanical components; each model will display its own style.
The idea which generated the Crossland X is far from revolutionary. It is clever, in turn, and this is much better because it is what was actually necessary. Not only does this project solve all the problems which were expected from it, such goal is accomplished by making adequate use of the resources Opel had at its disposal. For people who appreciate car design — or design in general -, this story becomes even sweeter because most of those solutions were achieved through working with design. Whether the Crossland X will prosper in the market, it is up to the years to tell. However, it is already safe to say that its story had a beautiful start.