“Opel has been moving people for 160 years. Today we are driven by the same spirit as the company founder Adam Opel: technology and innovations for everyone – whether sewing machines, bicycles or cars. All this with a clear view of the future, always ready to face new challenges. Many bestsellers from Opel's rich history stand for this, as do our current models, most of which are already electrified. From 2028, Opel will be a purely electric brand in Europe. We are therefore well prepared for the next 160 years,” says Opel CEO Uwe Hochschurtz.
The Opel success story began at the end of August 1862. Adam Opel assembled his first sewing machine in Rüsselsheim, Germany. Production figures quickly rose and in 1868, Adam Opel and his employees moved into a new factory. The company soon developed into one of the largest sewing machine manufacturers in Germany and exported to the whole of Europe.
Opel built up its next successful pillar with the bicycle. In 1886 the first penny-farthing bicycle was built in Rüsselsheim, making Opel one of the first bicycle manufacturers in Germany. Soon the range of models expanded to include tricycles and in 1888 the first factory was inaugurated, reserved solely for production of bicycles. Opel was quick to adopt modern technology such as pneumatic tyres, ball bearings and free-wheel hubs for its bicycles. From 1894 onwards, Opel introduced bicycles specially designed for women. The success story continued through the decades and by the 1920s, Opel advanced to become the world's largest bicycle manufacturer.
The decisive developmental step in the history of the company, driven forward by his five sons after Adam Opel's death, was the start of Opel automobile production in 1899 in Rüsselsheim, with the Opel “Patent-Motorwagen System Lutzmann”. In 1906 the 1,000th vehicle was built. The final breakthrough came in 1909 with the legendary 4/8 PS “Doktorwagen”. At 3,950 marks, it cost half as much as luxurious competitors and paved the way for a broader section of the population to own their own car.
The next revolution in production followed in 1935. The new Olympia model became the first German mass-produced vehicle with a unitary all-steel body, which, thanks to its low weight, ensured improved driving performance and low fuel consumption. The entire production process was faster, more efficient and less costly, in turn delivering more customers.
Over the course of its 160-year rich history, Opel has repeatedly set trends with new models, new comfort and safety features, and created true bestsellers, each one born with a nod to the past, yet each one looking to the future.
The first post-war Opel, a 1.5 tonne Blitz truck, left the factory in 1946, whilst in 1953, the carmaker launched the Olympia Rekord Caravan, a mixture of “car and van”, the first large-series station wagon from a German manufacturer. Today, the load-lugging, multi-award-winning Opel Combo, Vivaro and Movano van ranges remain as practical as ever and are fully electric. Always looking to the future, Opel has just delivered the first units of the Vivaro-e Hydrogen to business customers.
The most enduring model line to date is the Kadett, unveiled in 1936. In 1962, the Kadett A became a million-seller, a driving force behind the German “economic miracle”. Rebranded as Astra since 1991, the Kadett legacy continues to ensure that innovations find their way into the compact class, with the all-new sixth generation Astra arriving in 2022, and a fully electric Astra-e due in 2023.
In 1965, Opel presented the Experimental GT, the first concept car from a European car manufacturer, at the IAA motor show in Frankfurt. The two-seater broke the mould of conventional European car design. Only three years later, the first series-produced Opel GT rolled off the production line. Its performance, unique design and attractive price made the GT a hit with buyers, and it is still a real dream car today.
Sporty cars in search of records have always been part of Opel. The most spectacular example from the early days was set on 23 May 1928 by Fritz von Opel, Adam Opel's eldest grandson. With the RAK 2 rocket car, he reached a speed of 238 km/h on the Berlin Avus. Fast forward to 1974 and Walter Röhrl put Opel front and centre in motorsport when he and co-driver Jochen Berger became European Rally Champions in an Ascona SR. In 1982, together with Christian Geistdörfer, he won the Monte Carlo Rally in an Ascona 400 against strong four-wheel drive competition, and at the end of the season claimed the World Rally Championship title. Today the all-electric Opel Corsa-e Rally is currently proving that top performance and environmental compatibility are not mutually exclusive.
Born in the eighties, the Corsa small car celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Right from the start, it quickly became the best-selling vehicle in its segment. In 1985, Opel demonstrated its environmental credentials when it presented the Corsa 1.3i, the first European small car with a three-way catalytic converter. In 1989, Opel was the first European manufacturer to equip all models with an exhaust gas after-treatment system as standard. The current generation Corsa and Corsa-e 100% electric, is once again a bestseller in its class.
In 1991, the Astra was fitted with the Opel Safety System with side impact protection, anti-submarining ramps in the seats and seat belt tensioners and in 1995, Opel was the first German car manufacturer to introduce full-size airbags for driver and front passenger as standard on all new cars.
In 1999, Opel once again demonstrated how it combines heart and mind with innovative solutions. With the Zafira and its highly variable Flex7 concept, Opel defined the new segment of compact seven-seaters. For the first time, a seven-seater could also be transformed into a two-seater with a large load area in the blink of an eye, without having to remove any seats.
In 2003, Opel was the first vehicle manufacturer to introduce AFL (Adaptive Forward Lighting), dynamic cornering lights and 90-degree cornering lights in the mid-size segment. in 2008, the next generation of lights, AFL+, made their debut with the introduction of the first Insignia. In 2015, the Opel Astra was the first to feature the adaptive Intelli-Lux LED® Matrix Light, with a total of 168 LED elements, providing precise illumination of the road ahead, without dazzling other road users. Today, the technology features on Mokka, Astra, Insignia and Grandland models.
Opel was on the road to electric as early as 1971 when the Elektro GT set six sensational electric car world records on the Hockenheim racetrack. Opel continued its role as electric pioneer in series production vehicles with the electrified Opel Ampera, Europe's “Car of the Year 2012", establishing a new segment in the European automotive market. With its range extender, the coupé-like four-seater was the first electrically driven vehicle suitable for everyday use with a range of around 500km. The Opel Ampera-e, a purely battery-electric compact car, followed in 2016. A single charge of the 60-kWh lithium-ion battery provides a driving range of up to 520km.