Concept of Reality Matt 27. January, 2016 Cheap Ramblings The Geneva International Motor Show, or as some call it “Salon”, is now just a few weeks away and manufacturers are putting the final touches to the concepts from which they will whip a satin shroud in March. One of the first to break cover is this rather striking effort from GM, The Opel (or Vauxhall) Concept GT, a two seat, RWD compact sports coupe with a fizzy blown three pot under the bonnet and a claimed 0-60 time of about 8 seconds thanks to a kerb weight under a ton. One of the photos even shows a smart young lady in tennis shoes although in deference to 21st Century thinking she isn’t scratching her backside. Naturally certain details can’t translate to a production version – the body-coloured side window film probably wouldn’t pass type approval, the lights would be bigger, the skateboard inspired wheels would be deemed too radical for mainstream tastes and the rear needs to open somehow but the doors, cleverly hinged just behind the front wheels to allow easier access, and the overall shape could very well see the light of day. Current GM Europe boss Karl-Thomas Neumann has dropped strong hints that it is a production possibility if enough interest is shown. All I would say, Herr Neumann, is be careful what you wish for. The sports car is not dead. There is a myriad of options for people who want to be seen, develop a melanoma and only have one friend. The problem is the market and what these people actually want to buy. A two-seater sports car is the least practical option on four wheels; it’s fun, you can get a tan, show off, have fun in the twisties and if you’re lucky take two people away with enough luggage for a weekend but that’s about it. If you want to do the school run, take your garden waste to the dump, shop for groceries once a week or actually have some friends then it’s hopeless. So if you are going to have a sports car then you need to have another car to do all the other stuff and people who can afford to do that can usually afford and want a “badge”. Boxsters, TTs, Z4s and upwards tick that box which means the market for an affordable two seater isn’t very big at all. Not forgetting of course that it’s very easy to make, and make money from, an expensive product, but to do it cheaply requires volume; R&D and tooling costs are not correspondingly lower which is why modular platforms and platform sharing are so beloved by the volume car makers. The hot hatch didn’t completely kill the small sports car but it meant that in the late 80s when Mazda spotted a gap in the market it was a narrow one which they entered sideways with their gut sucked in. The Mazda MX-5 is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful sports car of all time but you need to put that into context. In over a quarter of a century they have sold less than a million, fewer than 40,000 units a year on average, and that is globally. And in that period all other attempts to muscle in on that market have, for one reason or another, failed or been cancelled. Toyota’s MR2 was a fine car provided you didn’t have any luggage, the Fiat Barchetta was FWD, the Honda S2000 screamed at you before subjecting you to snap oversteer and the MG TF was a Rover. Toyota and Subaru’s joint venture gained early traction but was overpriced and/or underpowered depending on who you talk to and Mazda only managed to make the RX-8 work by fitting it with some extra seats you could actually use. VW have been toying with the idea for some time with their handsome, mid-engined, Blue Sport Concept but have admitted that it would need to eclipse the Mazda’s sales to make it a commercial viability and they can’t see where those numbers would come from. And of course thanks to “Wastegate” (can’t believe nobody else has dubbed it that) they’ve conveniently forgotten where they left their brave pills so you’re as likely to see a Blue Sport in showrooms as get handcuffed to a ghost. Even though Fiat is back in the game my gut feeling is that Mazda will shift the roughly same number as before, minus whatever market share they lose to the MX-5 based 124. Herr Neumann, however, would do well to remember the maxim “if we do not learn from our history then we are doomed to repeat it” and look again to VW before giving the GT the green light. I’m not talking about fiddling with ECUs but garnering public opinion. Back in 1994 at the Detroit Show VW showed off a study their design bods in California had cooked up to showcase what the Beetle might look like if it were brought up to date. It was cute and had a baby vase in the dash as a nod to the original’s flower power connections. “Do you like it?” they asked. “Should we build it?” “Yes” came the chorus of replies. And so they did. Initially it sold well but as the years rolled by with no revision the design grew dated and having garnered a reputation as a “girl’s car” sales slumped. In typically dogged Germanic fashion VW persisted and launched a second one, which was still too cute for most guys to buy but too aggressive for young female buyers, and explains why VW dealers’ lots across America are full of unsold Bugs making puppy-dog eyes at passers by in the hope of being adopted and taken home. It’s all very well canvassing opinions, be that from the motoring press currently being effusive and universal in their praise for this little Opel GT, or the general populous, but if you’re going to do that make sure the questions you ask are the correct ones. Of course we like it and of course we think you should build it; I very much want to live in a world where this cool little Opel exists. Before you do that, Herr Neumann, a word of caution. Make sure the question you are asking is “Would you buy one?” because unless you do that all you are effectively doing is asking us to hold your beer while you do something really stupid. And we all know how that ends. 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