The Opel Adam is a huge deal for General Motors' most beleaguered brand. Opel has struggled hard lately, and the European subsidiary needs the little car to be a big hit. Meanwhile, across the pond, GM's CEO says he wants the Adam for Buick. I say that's the wrong approach.
Automotive News reported that during an investor conference in Detroit this month, GM CEO Dan Akerson said he regrets the company's 2009 decision to develop the Adam city car — which competes with Mini and the Fiat 500 in Europe — and Cascada convertible for the Chinese markets, but not for the U.S.
That happened before Akerson's tenure, and he said he now feels like the cars "would help Buick in this market and in China in terms of demographics." GM North America President Mark Reuss also told the publication that "Buick is ready for something special," like a convertible or some other unique flagship car.
I won't deny that Buick could use a little more flare in its lineup, but I don't think the Adam fits the bill there. Does that funky little subcompact really fit in with Buick's current line of nice but staid SUVs and sedans? Not really.
Now, I realize that Buick is trying hard to appeal to young Americans with stuff like the Encore and Regal, but short of an Audi-style renaissance like the one Cadillac is experiencing, I'm not sure I see that happening. I think too many young buyers will always think of Buick as the car their grandparents drive.
So here's what you do, GM. You bring the Adam to our shores. But not as a Buick — as an Opel.
I'm talking about borrowing the playbook pioneered by Mini and recently adopted by Fiat. I'm talking about selling the Adam under its Opel name, and marketing it — and Opel — as a hip, stylish, Euro-chic brand for city dwellers who need something small and efficient but want something fun and cool-looking. In short, GM could do with Opel what Chrysler is doing with Fiat.
The idea actually hit me when I was on the Fiat 500L drive. During the presentation for that car, Fiat's managers kept using words like "urban," "hip," "style," "European" and so on when they spoke about their customers. Forget the Panda and Punto and the Bravo, the 500 is what Fiat is all about in America now. Even after their troubled marketing campaigns, that's the brand's identity over here.
Why can't Opel be the same for GM? They could bring Opel over here, do a limited launch in a few cities like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and maybe Portland or Austin or whatever, and ramp up a big, clever marketing campaign that plays up the little car's Euro-ness.
Forget all the other cars in the Opel lineup, too. Forget the Astra, the Insignia, and everything else. In America, it needs to be all about Adam. Here, the Adam could represent for Opel what the 500 now represents for Fiat. (I will argue that the Cascada would make sense as a Buick, though.)
Tell me why this wouldn't work! If Fiat can do the same thing, so can Opel. After all, Opel has been a captive import in the U.S. many times before, both under its own name with cars like the Opel GT, Kadett and Manta, and also with Saturn and Buick badges.
Just like most mainstream buyers don't remember all of Fiat's old offerings here, I would wager that not too many people still think about the Opel GT. This could be GM's chance to do something fresh and different with the brand.
Granted, there are definite downsides to this plan. It could be argued that the last thing GM needs is more brands, and it could be tough to make the Euro-built Opel Adam profitable.
Also, the car has received some criticism for being underpowered and not as fun to drive as it looks. But at the same token, is that what buyers in that segment truly care about? Besides the Abarth, the 500 doesn't exactly light up the track and it does just fine.
Moreover, these issues don't sound like anything that couldn't be fixed with a more powerful engine. The 1.4-liter turbo four in the Chevy Sonic could do the trick, as could the 1.0-liter turbo three cylinder that Edmunds mentions.
I feel like I could be on to something here: Opel's rebirth in the U.S. as GM's Fiat with the Adam at the forefront. I see this car appealing to that oh-so-coveted youth market more than any Chevy Spark ever could.
What do you think? Could GM pull this off, or is Opel better left in Europe?