From sewing machine manufacturer to one of the biggest European car makers
Since its founding, Opel always synonymous for affordable mobility
Leadership role in futuristic E-mobility market
Rüsselsheim. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Opel employees will not just be raising their glasses to the New Year but will be toasting the start of the 150th anniversary year of Opel. In 1862, the founding father, Adam Opel, could hardly have envisaged that his firm would one day become one of the biggest car makers in Europe.
In the year 1862, Adam Opel uses his father’s locksmith workshop in Rüsselsheim, Germany, to make sewing machines. The business takes off. Soon bicycles are sold and in 1886, the first bike, the “Velociped” model has its market launch.
Bicycles from Rüsselsheim quickly become popular. By the middle of the nineteen-twenties, Opel has established itself as the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer. In the meantime, motorbikes have also been added to the list of products. Opel’s automotive history starts in 1899, making it the second-oldest car maker in Germany after Daimler-Benz.
In the fall of 1902, Opel presents the “Lutzmann motorcar patent” with a 10/12 hp engine. The cars soon enjoy growing popularity: by 1906 already more than 1,000 such vehicles have rolled off the production line. By 1914, Opel has overtaken all its competitors and is the biggest car maker in Germany.
The brand makes a name for itself as a maker of popular and affordable blockbuster models such as “Doktorwagen” (1909) or “Puppchen” (1914). These models lay the foundations for Opel’s company ethos of delivering high quality, reliable and affordable vehicles for a wide segment of customers.
The 1920s embody the trailblazing spirit of Opel which endures to this day. This is the era of the “Laubfrosch” (engl. tree frog) and “Rakete” (engl. rocket) vehicles. The small 4/12 hp is known by its nickname “Laubfrosch” or “tree frog” because it is painted in bright green colors. In 1924, Opel is the first German car maker to use an automated assembly line. In addition, the company starts carrying spectacular rocket tests that grab the headlines. For example, in 1928 Opel’s rocket car breaks the land speed record on the Berlin Avus race track. Fritz von Opel achieves a speed of 238 km/h; a sheer unimaginable feat in those days. One year later Opel takes to the skies: its Opel-Sander RAK1 takes off from a large plaza in Frankfurt, making it the first ever publicly manned rocket flight, albeit a short one.
1929 marks the start of tough times for the car industry. Millions lose their jobs in the global economic crisis. The world economy collapses like a house of cards in at the end of the “roaring twenties”. However, Opel reacts quickly and finds a strong partner in the American giant, General Motors. The car maker from Rüsselsheim is able to consolidate its market position and in 1935 is able to raise its annual output to above the 100,000 vehicles mark. Among the products is the new “Blitz” truck which is made at the Brandenburg plant. At that time the Rüsselsheim car maker launch a technical innovation: the Olympia is the first German production vehicle with a self-supporting body only made from steel. A year later, the company lays the foundations for a 75 year success story in the compact class that reaches all the way to the present. Starting at the first Kadett, there is an almost seamless tradition to the present day with the Astra family. By 1936, Opel is the biggest car manufacturer in Europe with an annual output of over 120.000 vehicles.
After civilian production was suspended in the war year, Opel resumes its work in the period of Germany’s re-construction. The German economic miracle is associated with many Opel model names such as the Olympia, Olympia Rekord, Rekord P1 and the Kapitän, while many households are equipped with Opel fridges called “Frigidaire” to keep their food fresh. In 1962, which coincides with Opel’s 100th birthday, the second plant of the brand is opened in Bochum, where the new Kadett is produced. In the nineteen-sixties numerous new models are born that consolidate Opel’s sporty and emotional reputation, including the legendary and iconic Commodore, Manta and GT models. Opel also has a strong presence in the upper segment with its prestigious KAD line-up (Kapitän, Admiral, Diplomat) which are later replaced by the Senator and Monza.
In 1971, the tenth millionth Opel rolls off the assembly line. In that year, Georg von Opel who drives an Opel GT breaks the speed record for battery propulsion by reaching 188 km/h. This is evidence that Opel has the topic of electro mobility on its agenda – decades before anybody has even thought of it. Nowadays Opel is a pioneer in this field: the 111 kW (150 hp) Ampera which is fitted with the revolutionary range extender is the world’s first production electric vehicle not limited to battery-related range.
In 1972, Opel is Germany’s most successful car maker. A new range of models is born in Rüsselsheim which focuses on safety, consumption and environmental-friendliness. The fifth Kadett generation which appears with front wheel drive for the first time has a drag co-efficient as low as CD 0.39, making it one of the most aerodynamic compact cars. These record breaking figures are continued with the Omega A (CD 0.28) and the Calibra (CD 0.26). In the 1980s the subject of emission control becomes a focal point. Opel is among the pioneers. The Rüsselsheim brand is the first German company to offer a complete fleet with catalytic converters. From 1989, all its models are fitted with this technology.
In 1991, the Opel safety system has its debut in the Astra. It comprises side impact protection, supports in the seats and belt tensioners. The brand once again shows that it is a trend setter with the new Frontera. The leisure vehicle is one of the predecessors to the SUV movement and rapidly rises to the position of segment leader. In 1992, Opel opens the gates of its Eisenach plant – at the time the most modern plant in the world. Then Opel launches several models: 1997 Opel becomes the first European manufacturer to offer an economical three-cylinder by bringing the Corsa to market. In 1999, the Zafira makes its debut. The Rüsselsheim company lays the foundations for the booming compact monocab segment and sets new standards for flexibility in the interior of family vehicles. Also in that year, Opel celebrates a glamorous product jubilee: 50 million Opel cars have so far left its auto plants.
With the launch of the Insignia in 2008, Opel carries out a re-positioning of the brand. The new flagship models start a new brand philosophy: to combine sculptural artistry with German precision. This idea is continued with the recent Zafira Tourer and the Astra GTC.
Opel and its British sister brand Vauxhall now sell cars in more than 40 countries. The company has a workforce of around 40.500 at plants and engineering centers in six European nations. In the year 2010 alone, Opel/Vauxhall sold more than 1.1 million cars and light commercial vehicles and achieved a market share of 6.2 percent in Europe. With the launch of the electric Ampera, the traditional brand starts a new segment in the European automotive industry and underscores its role as a trendsetter for progressive mobility solutions.