Opel is a German automobile manufacturer that is a subsidiary of General Motors. The company produces and sells vehicles and parts in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.
Opel got its start as an automobile manufacturer in a manner different from other car companies. Adam Opel started the company in 1862 in a cowshed in Russelsheim, Hesse, Germany—making customized sewing machines. Opel was good at it, and launched a new product in 1886: high-wheeled bicycles. Again, Opel was successful and a leader in both market until he died in 1895.
Opel’s sons continued the company, and in 1899, they partnered with Friedrich Lutzmann, a locksmith who had automobiles designs. The vehicles were not a hit, so Opel cut ties with Lutzmann and in 1901 signed with Automobiles Darracq S.A. to produce the Opel Darracq. The car featured an Opel body on a Darracq chassis with a two-cylinder engine.
From these beginnings, and after a few more models, Opel became one of the largest vehicle makers in Germany by 1914.
The 1920s and ’30s brought innovation and growth to Opel. In the early 1920s, the company was the first in Germany to use an assemble line. The assembly line led to a more affordable car, and by 1928, the company had a 37.5% market share in Germany.
Opel’s success and production facilities attracted the attention of General Motors. GM bought 80% of Opel in 1929 and took 100% ownership in 1931.
In 1935, Opel became the first German manufacturer to produce more than 100,000 cars in a year, due to the popular P4 model. Throughout the ’30s, the company introduced innovations such as the all-steel unibody, which improved performance and fuel consumption.
World War II brought uncertainty to Opel, as its military innovations for aircraft engines led to Allied bombings of Opel plants. Post-war Germany saw Opel’s equipment given to the Russians as reparations. Only through the resistance of the American government, which had the plant in Russelsheim in its zone of occupation, and the resiliency of local workers kept Opel from collapsing. In 1946, the plant rolled out the first Opel Blitz truck, and in 1947, Opel resumed car manufacturing with the Olympia.
The 1950s and ’60s brought changes to Opel cars under GM’s management, and the company found success as a mid-priced auto manufacturer. By the 1970s, Opel became the stronger of GM’s two European brands, the other being Vauxhall. The two brands were essentially merged by the 1980s.
Opel continues to be a strong brand in Europe, developing innovative fuel-saving engines and transmissions. It has 11 vehicle, powertrain, and component plants in seven countries, and the brand sells in more than 50 markets around the world.
Opel’s current flagship model, the Insignia, debuted in 2014. The new design features more attractive styling, strong and efficient direct injection engines, and IntelliLink infotainment technology. The enhancements have led to the new flagship vehicle to be well received by the car-buying public.
The Insignia range offers three fuel propulsion alternatives: gasoline, diesel, and liquefied petroleum gas. The available power spectrum ranges from 88 kW/120 hp up to 239 kW/325 hp for the top OPC sports model.
Opel currently produces 19 models of cars, light commercial vehicles, and performance cars. The Insignia is the company’s biggest seller and includes a sedan, hatchback, sports tourer, and country tourer.
The company has models for all types of uses. The Cascada is a mid-size convertible, while the Astra is a popular small family car. Opel produces two city cars, the Adam and the Karl, a compact crossover SUV, the Antara. Opel has also entered the hybrid market with the Ampera.
Because of GM’s ownership of the company, many of Opel’s models were sold in the United States, most under the Buick name. For example, the Opel Insignia is the Buick Regal in America.
Opel’s long history has resulted in many previous models. After the company ceased production of the Opel Darracq, it produced the Opel 4/8PS model, known as the “Doktorwagen” because doctors appreciated its reliability and robustness over country roads.
The first car produced on its assembly line was the Laubfrosch in 1924. Opel made its first eight-cylinder car, the Regent, in 1928.
After GM purchased the company, Opel produced Blitz trucks and the Kadett and Kapitan lines.
From the late 1930s to the 1980s terms from the German Navy (Kapitän, Admiral, Kadett) and from other official sectors (Diplomat, Senator) were often used as model names. Since the late 1980s the model names of Opel passenger cars end with an “A.”
Opel has produced four winners in the European Car of the Year competition: the Kadett E in 1985, the Omega A in 1987, the Insignia in 2009, and the Ampera in 2012.