FRANKFURT -- It was three years ago when General Motors first declared one of its most important post-bankruptcy goals: to stop losing money by mid-decade in Europe, a region that has drained more than $18 billion from GM's bottom line over the last 16 years.
It finally will reach that milestone next year, GM executives said at the auto show here last week. But then what?
The next phase of the Opel turnaround plan calls for expansion of its market share to 8 percent by 2022, from 6.7 percent now. And that growth will be profitable, GM CEO Mary Barra told reporters. GM expects Opel's pretax profit margin excluding one-time items to hit 5 percent by then.
"You need to be present in Europe. You need to win in Europe," Barra said. "Our investment in Opel reflects that."
GM's forecasts aren't without skeptics.
IHS Automotive expects Opel's market share to remain flat, or even to decline slightly, by that date as it strives to win over customers from entrenched rivals such as Volkswagen and Ford.
"I think Opel will continue to suffer from being stuck in the mass market, with the pressures that brings with it from above and below," London-based IHS Automotive analyst Ian Fletcher said.
The redesigned Astra compact unveiled here, for example, will face formidable competitors such as the top-selling VW Golf, as well as premium entries such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 series.
Opel essentially was in restructuring mode from the 2009 bankruptcy until recently. Much of the savings came from thousands of layoffs and the shuttering of an assembly plant in Bochum, Germany, the first closure of a major automotive plant in Germany in about 70 years. Losses rose last year to $1.37 billion -- about half of that from restructuring -- but were $284 million in the first half of this year, less than half the total from a year earlier.
Future profitability will come from introducing new vehicles for which Opel can command higher transaction prices, Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann says. That product-centric strategy has shown early traction.
The Mokka introduced in 2013 is one of the top-selling small SUVs in Europe, with sales of 100,137 through July, according to JATO Dynamics. A redesigned Corsa subcompact -- Opel's highest-volume nameplate -- was launched early this year and is registering "much higher" transaction prices than its predecessor, Neumann said. The Adam, a premium minicar launched in 2013, is reaping incremental sales and attracting younger buyers, with an average age of 37.
"Our intention is to get more revenue per car by selling higher trim lines and more features," Neumann told reporters on the sidelines of the auto show.
That strategy is apparent on the redesigned Astra, a compact that shares its platform with the Chevy Cruze. The new-generation Astra revealed here, for sale later this year, will offer massage seats, a perfume diffuser, advanced LED headlamps and 4G wireless OnStar service, all firsts for the segment in Europe, Opel says.
Material costs will be lighter than the previous generation, aiding profit, Neumann said. For example, many of the entries will use engines from GM's new family of 1.0- to 1.5-liter engines, which will be spread across a greater number of models than the previous engines were, cutting per-unit costs.
The brand also is adding more crossovers. Barra said one based on the same platform as the Opel Insignia -- which shares its underpinnings with the Chevrolet Impala and Malibu and Buick Regal and LaCrosse -- will arrive in a few years.