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There is no doubt that 2015 was a very challenging year not just for Opel/Vauxhall, but for the automotive industry as a whole, and indeed the European community.
Our industry has come under severe scrutiny following the emissions scandal that surfaced in September, and cast a shadow of suspicion over the whole of the industry. Nevertheless, we are on the threshold of the biggest turnaround in the European automotive industry.
As ever, we endeavour to minimise our environmental footprint, promoting energy diversity and energy efficiency, and reduce the amount of nature’s resources we use in our business operations. I am proud to say that all Opel/Vauxhall manufacturing plants now send zero waste to landfill, making Europe the first global GM region to achieve 100 percent landfill-free status in its manufacturing processes. We are also continually looking to develop and bring to market new and innovative products and technologies that reduce the emissions of our vehicles and enhance our customers’ experience of Opel/Vauxhall.
The safety of our employees is of paramount importance. We wholeheartedly support Mary Barra’s campaign to “Live values that return people home safely. Every person. Every site. Every day.” Safety is the overriding priority. Taking responsibility and leading by example are behaviors we stress with our employees. Since 2014 across the region we drive home the point through a series of focused activities during Global Safety Week.
In 2015 Opel/Vauxhall achieved its best European sales for four years, delivering more than 1.1 million vehicles despite having taken the strategic decision to withdraw from the Russian market. This represents an increase of over 35,000 units, or 3.3 percent, versus 2014, and our market share increased for the third year in a row to 5.8 percent. Commercial vehicles posted the highest sales and market share results since 2008, with sales up 24 percent to over 100,000 units.
We are well into the biggest model offensive in our history that will include 29 new models by 2020, and 2015 saw the launch of the best model we have ever built, the new Astra. It has been fantastically received, claiming the European Golden Steering Wheel 2015 award as well as many national awards, and it was named European Car of the Year 2016 at the Geneva Motor Show. Part of our focus going forward will be the introduction of the game-changing EV the Ampera-e, opening the road to electric mobility by breaking down the barriers of high price and short driving range.
In the future, however, it will be increasingly important to develop from a product manufacturer to a mobility service provider. We recognise this and launched our own car-sharing scheme in 2015 called CarUnity. We also took a major step forward in automotive connectivity by introducing our personal connectivity and service assistant OnStar to Europe in 2015. These two new services will play an important role in digitalizing the Opel brand.
Over the next couple of years the legislative landscape in terms of vehicle emissions will change significantly, with the current test cycle (NEDC) scheduled to be replaced by a new one (WLTP) in 2017 that will feature an element of real world driving. We strongly believe that the industry has to regain trust by increasing transparency with customers and authorities, and that is why we announced in December that we are voluntarily taking the next step to improve transparency and meet future emission protocols. Starting with the new Opel Astra from June 2016 onwards, and in addition to the official fuel consumption and CO2 information, we will publish fuel consumption numbers, reflecting different driving behaviour recorded under the WLTP test cycle.
From August 2016 onwards, we will also implement an initiative to improve NOx emissions on SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) diesel applications in new vehicles. This is a voluntary and early intermediate step toward the so-called RDE (Real Driving Emissions) legislation that goes into effect in September 2017. The start of the implementation for this Euro 6 SCR improvement in new vehicles is currently scheduled for August 2016. In addition, this activity also includes a voluntary customer satisfaction field action that will involve Euro 6 SCR vehicles that are already on the road in Europe. Furthermore, starting in 2018, the entire diesel fleet will feature SCR technology. We are also offering to provide the regulatory authorities with the engine calibration strategies, which should serve as the basis for a proactive dialogue.
Discussions are already underway regarding the EU’s post-2020 CO2 emissions targets. Rather than just focusing on new registrations, we propose a more integrated solution where fuel is included in the EU ETS, so the responsibility for the actual emissions is passed on to the end user, thereby having a greater impact on reducing actual emissions.
Two massive issues we are facing in Europe are those of critical youth unemployment and the ever-worsening refugee crisis. These are not just political challenges – they affect the economy, and therefore in 2015 Opel spearheaded an initiative called InCharge, aimed at utilizing in-house company know-how in countering youth unemployment and integrating refugees into the German employment market. One hundred fifty of our own employees in Germany have volunteered to act as mentors for 150 refugees to help integrate them into the job market. It really is a true representation of serving and improving the communities in which we live and work and one of which I am personally very proud.
So as you can see not only are we addressing the significant issues currently facing Europe, the car industry and Opel/Vauxhall, we are also looking forward to design and manufacture better, safer and more efficient products in a more environmentally friendly manner.
Executive Vice President & President, GM Europe
Chairman of the Management Board of Opel Group GmbH