The successor to General Motors' struggling Vectra will debut in production form at the Frankfurt auto show in September.
The new car goes on sale early next year as an Opel in mainland Europe and a Vauxhall in the UK. Initial body styles will be a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback.
But it is not certain that the Vectra nameplate will be retained.
According to Hans Demant, Opel board member responsible for product development, the name will stay. 'We will use Vectra again,' he said.
But sources inside Opel say discussions to drop the Vectra name are continuing. 'As recently as the last week of February, we received new documents on the subject,' a source said.
The Vectra fits into Europe's core upper-medium segment along with rivals such as the Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo. Compared with 1999, European sales of the current Vectra fell more than 21 percent last year to 229,698 units. The upper-medium segment as a whole declined more than 16 percent to 1.9 million units, according to estimates by JATO Dynamics.
The next Vectra will be GM's second application of the new front-wheel-drive Epsilon platform. Saab's next-generation 9-3, due for sale later this year, will be the first.
'I would prefer not to use the name platform anymore, since that's not what it actually is. We should talk about modularity of components for a certain class of vehicles,' said Demant.
Responding to criticism of declining quality, Demant said the new model would be extremely well built.
Opel identified quality problems a few years ago. They were said to be caused by the cost-cutting policy carried out by former General Motors Europe purchasing boss Ignacio Lopez.
Demant acknowledged the problems but would not blame Lopez alone.
'When Lopez arrived, the supply industry was not ripe for a turnaround,' he said. 'Now suppliers have adjusted to a new relationship with automakers.
'You can lose a quality image overnight, but it takes at least five years to restore it,' he added.
Opel is planning a fourth body style for the next Vectra, complementing the current lineup of sedan, hatchback and station wagon.
'We want to reposition Opel and highlight such features as vehicle dynamics, contemporary design, versatility and 'infotainment,'' said Demant. 'And we will also move away from our traditional base with one or more alternative body styles.'
Demant would not go into detail about the fourth body style. But it won't be a niche model.
'To be profitable, we have to think of an annual volume between 80,000 and 100,000 units,' he said.
An Opel source said the fourth model will be a station wagon-type vehicle, but one aimed at leisure use. 'It stands higher on its wheels, like an Audi allroad,' the source said. 'But it probably won't get four-wheel drive right away.'
Opel will show a concept car featuring the new body style at the Frankfurt auto show.
'But we will also emphasize the car's versatility and flexibility,' said Hans Seer, head of Opel design in Russelsheim, Germany.
The next Vectra will also come with new engine technology. Besides the current range of four-cylinder diesel and gasoline engines, Opel will introduce a GDI direct-injection gasoline engine. The car will also come with a 2.5-liter common-rail diesel made by Isuzu.
The GDI engine will be available about six months after the next Vectra's introduction.
'It will create some momentum for such engine technology in the market,' said Demant. 'But it will also put some pressure on refiners to speed up availability of low-sulfur gasoline.'
Low-sulfur fuel is essential for the proper functioning of direct-injection gasoline engines.