Opel and Vauxhall’s harmonious relationship was tested recently by the naming of their new minicar. Vauxhall fought against using a name that just wouldn’t work in Britain -- and won.
Germany-based Opel picked the name Karl for the brand’s budget minicar, which debuts next year. Opel and Vauxhall have shared vehicle names since 1995, but the German-sounding, German-spelled Karl caused Vauxhall executives to protest.
That is why Karl is out and Viva is in as the car’s name in Britain. The Viva name originally was used on a series of strong-selling subcompact Vauxhall sedans last offered in 1979. Even if few people here remember the original Viva, it still works as a stand-alone name, a Vauxhall spokesman told me.
The Viva/Karl is the first Opel/Vauxhall volume model to have different names since 1995.
This is the second time in recent years that the name of a car has caused some tension between Opel and Vauxhall.
When the sibling General Motors brands launched their premium minicar it was given the first name of Opel’s founder, Adam. This raised some eyebrows in the UK because, of course, Vauxhall's founder was someone else entirely -- a man called Alexander Wilson.
Opel has returned to its family tree for the entry minicar. Karl is the name of one of Adam Opel’s sons. In a statement, Tina Mueller, Opel’s chief marketing officer, said: “Karl is a short, snappy and catchy name that represents Opel brand values: German, emotional and approachable.”
Karl with a K is just too German for Vauxhall, especially now it is starting to reposition the brand as being much more British, emphasizing its long history of car production here, which continues with the Astra in Ellesmere Port, northeast England, and the Vivaro van in Luton, just north of London.
Vauxhall also has a powerful voice within GM because the UK is the No. 1 global sales market for Opel/Vauxhall.
The naming victory has given Vauxhall a good amount of advance publicity ahead of next year’s launch for the Viva. A number of news stories recalled the very British Viva built by Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port starting in 1963.
Those nostalgic stories don’t change the fact that the new Viva will be built in South Korea using the Chevrolet Spark’s platform, making it impossible to call it a British (or German) car.
However, by rejecting Karl and resurrecting a fondly remembered name from the past, Vauxhall has taken an important step toward reviving its flagging brand image in the UK. Customers buying for reasons of pride instead of discounts are likely to pay more and help push Opel/Vauxhall forward on its long journey toward profitability.