Tuesday 16 July 2019

Staff, contracts safe as the Gowan Group acquires Opel Ireland

Staying on: Gillian Whittall
Staying on: Gillian Whittall
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

THE acquisition of Opel Ireland by the Gowan group, announced yesterday, has been on the cards for some time - but represents something of a watershed day in Irish motoring business.

There has been intense speculation that Opel would be the focus of a new 'partnership' with Peugeot, under the Gowan umbrella, as both brands are owned by PSA, the French automotive giant.

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PSA bought Opel and Vauxhall when it acquired General Motors' loss-making European arm in 2017.

Opel Ireland insists jobs, and dealer contracts are safe and watertight.

The focus is very much on turning a former giant of the Irish market into something more than a moderate player. That is going to be a challenge. In a fast-changing motoring landscape, there are few guarantees but there is greater safety in numbers and size than trying to survive as a single entity.

The core reason for the deal, as far as Opel is concerned, is the need for speed and flexibility to develop profitable growth. Sales, though recently somewhat increased, have been poor in historical terms for some time. A 3.94pc market share is well below the brand's former 11pc-12pc share.

In its halcyon days, as the key sponsor of the hugely successful Republic of Ireland soccer team, Opel could do little wrong. These days a more modest ambition of a market share 'significantly north' of 5pc is a medium-term goal.

The company employs 30 at its Sandyford, Dublin headquarters. Among them is general manager, Gillian Whittall, who retains her position. She and Stephen Norman, current MD Opel Ireland and Vauxhall Motors, insisted in the course of a 30-minute interview that contracts with the company's 28 core dealers, two satellite dealers and two authorised repairers will continue.

The Gowan Group, among other enterprises, imports and distributes new Peugeot and Honda vehicles. It is a family-owned holding company founded in 1969 by the late Con Smith.

Mr Norman blamed lack of awareness, at European management level, of how the Irish market worked for Opel's under-achievement here in recent times. Ireland is "widely misunderstood by (management) people in continental Europe," he said.

"It's going to need experts to build this business and these experts are here."

Irish Independent

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