Sarah Timmermans, Opel Belgium: Future-proofing across the board
There have been substantial changes at Opel/Vauxhall over recent times. Following the takeover by the PSA Group, there is now a wholesale shake-up of the dealership network across Europe. Then there is diesel… We met with Sarah Timmermans, CEO of Opel Belgium.
What is the situation regarding the shake-up of the Opel dealership network?
We have announced to all our dealers across Europe that we need to change our way to market, that both we and our dealers need to adapt to the changing customer behaviour, and to the changing landscape – disruptions such as electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, car-sharing…
So we needed to adapt the dealer contracts to be ready for all this. Most dealers also need to adapt their cost structures to be ready for the future. We have also clearly announced that we are no longer willing to pay them for the quality of their service alone. Quality is still very important, but a focus also has to be put primarily on performance and this performance applies to two elements: volume and customer satisfaction.
How are you going about this?
We have decided to terminate all dealer contracts across Europe, and we will offer most of them a new contract based on this new reality. We will see how they react, but we do not intend to significantly reduce the number of sales points, so neither private nor fleet customers should suffer from this. So it is all about adapting to the new reality and making our dealers future-proof.
You are now part of PSA – does this change the way you work?
It is certainly changing the way we work together and work with head office. The head office is itself also in the process of being integrated into the PSA group of course. Nothing has changed on the product side, but the ‘go to market’ process is changing, as is the way we go forward with connected cars, or the way we look at pricing, publicity… There is almost no level where we are not considering synergies and alignment.
Looking at SUVs, around one in three of all cars sold in Europe is now within this overall segment – will they completely replace traditional passenger cards and estates?
There will certainly be more and more of these, partly because the population is ageing and people like the high driving (and passenger) position. People also like the high degree of versatility that comes with this type of car. But another third of the market in Europe is in the medium small hatchback segment (B-segment) such as our Corsa, the Polo and so on. I don’t see this segment suddenly going away to be replaced by SUVs.
Back in Europe, diesel is currently a big issue. What is your take on this and on alternative powertrains?
We have clearly indicated that we are entirely technology-neutral. Everybody knows that we need to come down to 95 grams of CO2 emitted per km by 2020, and this is going to require a mix of powertrains. So we are working on electric vehicles, hybrids, hydrogen, along with petrol and diesel in their most ecological versions.
Do you have a formal plan to go forward in this domain?
Yes, we have now a clear CO2 roadmap to meet the 95g target set by the EU for 2020. It is included on our PACE! plan. Opel/Vauxhall will have 4 electrified car lines on the market by 2020, including the Grandland X PHEV and the next generation Corsa that will also be available as a fully electric vehicle. On top of this, every new passenger car line in Europe will get an electrified option – offering a BEV or a hybrid version alongside efficient internal combustion engine.
Image: Sarah Timmermans, CEO Opel Belgium