Who was the first German automaker to officially enter the mass-market car segment in India? If you’re thinking Volkswagen, you’ve probably forgotten about the Opel Astra, or may have never known about Opel’s German origin.
In 1996, Opel gave the average Indian car buyers their first choice of (somewhat) affordable German engineering with the Astra sedan. Back then, Opel was owned by General Motors, and Opel’s local operations were handled by GM’s Indian subsidiary.
Opel Astra - The OG premium compact sedan in India
Prior to its launch in India, Opel Astra had made its international debut in 1991. The different generation models of the car were each designated a letter from the Greek alphabet, which was Opel’s nomenclature back then. The first-generation was christened ‘Astra F’ (1991 – 1998), the second-generation model ‘Astra G’ (1998 – 2004), third was called ‘Astra H’ (2004 – 2009), fourth one ‘Astra J’ (2009 – 2015), and the current (fifth) generation is known as ‘Astra K’ (2015 – present).
Opel Astra F (first-generation) model in hatchback body style
The Astra remained in production in India till 2003, Here, we shall discuss the brief but interesting history of the Opel Astra, along with all the info we have about the car.
First Generation Opel Astra (Astra F, 1996 to 2003)
Innovation and upgrades were not words used by carmakers in our country back in the day. As such, like many other cars sold in India during that time, Opel Astra only had a single generation throughout its entire production run in our market, even as newer generations were available internationally.
Opel Astra was first introduced to the Indian market as a C-segment sedan, competitor to the Honda City, Mitsubishi Lancer, Ford Escort, and Hyundai Accent. The Astra was, however, much more premium than its competitors. It was one of the few cars to offer an automatic transmission in the 90s, along with ventilated disc brakes for the front wheels and side-impact bars in the doors for occupant safety. It also offered a CFC-free Air Conditioning system, which was a pretty new feature for the time, way ahead of its time. There were two engines on offer, a 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.7-litre diesel unit.
Opel Astra Club with electrically-operated sunroof
In 1999, Opel introduced an upmarket version of the Astra, called the Astra Club, alongside the regular model. The ‘Club’ version came with an electrically-operated sunroof, a feature that is considered a luxury in cars even today. It was available with both the previous engine options, the 1.6-litre petrol and the 1.7-litre diesel. Since its introduction, the car continued almost unchanged until the end of its production, which was primarily a cost-saving manoeuvre.
In 2003, Opel finally decided to pull the plug on the Astra, following dismal sales and poor buyer interest. In a price-sensitive market like India, the premium Astra was a little too ahead of its time. Opel was later replaced by Chevrolet in India, which brought a spiritual successor in the form of the Chevy Optra.
Opel is currently owned by Groupe PSA, which also has Peugeot, Citroën, DS, and Vauxhall brands under its belt. The PSA group is planning to start Indian operations soon, starting with the retail of Citreon C5 Aircross soon.
General Motors sold Opel to Groupe PSA in March 2017, for an amount of €2.2 billion. Later that year, GM stopped operations in India altogether.
Image: Team-BHP, Opel India Official, Favcars.com, Wikipedia