By Samuel Ee
[Above: Apline's managing director Albert Pang]
SINGAPORE - The Alpine Group has invested $25 million in the Opel brand despite the challenges ahead.
"The brand image is weak because it had a few false starts over the years," said Alpine's managing director Albert Pang. "Marketing for Opel has waxed and waned and the lack of consistency has hurt the brand even though it has some good products."
Alpine secured the Opel dealership on Jan 1, 2012, taking over from the Eurokars Group which had held it since 2002. Before that, ST Kinetics had been the Opel agent.
Eurokars Group executive chairman Karsono Kwee has been reported as saying that in his 10 years of representing the German brand, he only enjoyed one year of profit while total losses amounted to $12 million.
But Mr Pang is unfazed. He says the German make is entering a new phase with a new range of cars with new engines.
One of them is the Astra five-door hatchback with a new 1.6-litre twin-charged engine. Others include the racily styled three-door GTC sports coupé and the new Zafira Tourer, a compact MPV that used to be a popular model here but has since been extensively re-styled to help position Opel as a premium brand within the mass market segment.
Another reason for Mr Pang's optimism is the synergies he says Alpine will enjoy from distributing the German carmaker's commercial models as well. Opel commercial vehicles were previously sold by long-time dealer Triangle Auto.
"By offering both passenger and commercial models, there will be strong synergies for the service centre and the sales division," he says. "Having both also helps to cushion any cyclical swings in ales in the two segments."
Alpine's Opel dealership, Auto Germany Pte Ltd, will operate from a 120,000-square-foot, four- storey plus one basement building at 7 Ubi Close.
The new facility is directly across the road from Alpine's first dealership, Chevrolet, which it secured in March 2006. Both the Chevrolet and Opel brands belong to General Motors (GM), one of the biggest carmakers in the world.
The two makes will now be housed together in the new building, which Alpine bought from Cambridge Trust Reit. The total cost, including renovations, is $25 million.
The total showroom space of 16,500 sq ft comprises a ground floor showroom for Opel and Chevrolet each and another bigger display area for the German make on the second level. Levels two and three are dedicated to workshop facilities for each of the two brands with a total of 30 service bays, while the basement features a sprawling service centre with separate areas for each marque.
"This full 3S (showroom, service, and spare parts) facility is an assurance to our customers that I will give full attention to them," says Mr Pang.
The building used to house the Geely make from China and has 13 years remaining on its lease with an option to extend it.
Last year, only 62 new Opel cars were sold here, or 0.2 per cent of total 2011 registrations. That contrasts with another German mid-range make Volkswagen, which had 3,204 registrations or 11.3 per cent.
To regain market share, Mr Pang is concentrating on after-sales service. "This is an important way to get customers to regain confidence in the brand," he explains.
One initiative is a five- year warranty for new Opels - up from the current three years. Another is three years of free maintenance. Mr Pang says this is the first time that free servicing is being introduced for the brand.
"We have also brought servicing cost down by 20 per cent and we are following up closely on customer audits to improve our response time and service quality."
As for the marketing of the brand, Alpine is spending substantially on cable TV commercials and LED billboards in prime locations such as Orchard Road and Shenton Way.
Alpine was formed in 1979 when it began offering vehicle financing. It was also a sub-dealer for brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Renault, and Volkswagen. It relinquished these makes when it was appointed by GM as a Chevy dealer.
This article was first published in The Business Times.