Rüsselsheim is courting young buyers – the Opel Kadett City J

The year 1976 was actually a good one for Opel. For the first time, the brand with the lightning bolt recorded a market share of more than 20%. In addition, the Rüsselsheimer Wolfsburg had replaced as the market leader. And even against the nemesis VW Golf, it was believed that an effective antidote had been found in the Opel Kadett City.

In fact, it only seemed at first glance that the Opel Blitz was basking in the success. Statistics showed that VW was attracting young buyers to the Golf en masse, and that the City Kadett could only outperform the Golf visually. Because with an engine installed longitudinally instead of transversely and the rear-wheel drive, it had no chance against the compact from the Mittelland Canal.

In order to inspire young buyers, Opel relied on Formula J. A brilliant idea, and unfortunately a cynical game with the safety of the old days.

Opel City Kadett J - mercilessly addressed to a young target group
Opel City Kadett J - mercilessly addressed to a young target group

Opel Kadett City J

Sometimes automakers seem to get everything right. In the case of Opel, the outdated, staid Kadett became an almost modern-looking contribution to the compact class with the city compact model. In order to take the last semblance of fussiness out of the City, the Opel designers resorted to proven methods.

Instead of chrome decoration, the City Kadett J rolled out with black trim parts, which immediately left a sporty and fresher impression. The equipment was enriched and was almost generous in direct comparison to the stingy market competitors from Wolfsburg. In addition, the price was lowered and the advertising was rejuvenated.

In 1976, a year after the launch of the Kadett City, Opel advertised with a young woman with a trendy blow-dried hairdo, who was wearing what marketing felt was a smart T-shirt. Unfortunately, the shirt is not available in the hottest boutiques, but only at Opel dealers. Just like the highly topical blouson. And the car too.

It is not known whether the targeted customers also found the shirt hot. But the target group was addressed clearly and quite mercilessly.

It is also interesting that Opel had to pay extra for the lifestyle image that one suspected behind the Kadett City. The conventional Kadett, with notchback and two doors, is cheaper than the more compact hatchback.

Kadett City J - Advertisement 1976
Kadett City J - Advertisement 1976

The cynical Opel game with safety

Marketing also played a part in the Opel Kadett City advertising, which was quite cynical. Opel advertised a laminated glass windscreen at no extra cost. By request! What sounded great turned out to be pure cynicism months later. In fact, the laminated glass panes were much more expensive to buy than the conventional glass that Opel normally installed.

As Opel later admitted, the manufacturer relied on the naivety of customers who would not see the advantage. Opel advertises, has good press, but hardly any costs. That was the idea. But the marketing department reckoned without the customers.

The buyers were surprisingly enlightened. They knew that ordinary glass could be sharp and even deadly in the course of an accident. Where safety glass breaks into small pieces, there is a real danger lurking here.

Opel customers ordered the safety glass through the bank at no extra charge, which was previously only available as an option and for a surcharge. There was a big deficit in the Rüsselsheim cost accounting, Opel withdrew the campaign and switched back to the surcharge strategy.

The motoring press got wind of it, and now the brand with the lightning bolt had a reputation for being cynical and petty about customer safety. Because in the 70s, safety glass was increasingly becoming the standard for market competitors, but Opel appeared to be too stingy in public to introduce it in all vehicles.

Striving for profit before security - the damage was enormous, and only a year later the brand had handed over market leadership to Volkswagen.

- Sequel follows -

8 thoughts on "Rüsselsheim is courting young buyers – the Opel Kadett City J"

  • My father gave our mother a City J in 1979 as a successor to the legendary R4. Have to ask him if he would have liked to see his wife even younger and if he took the advertising seriously. My brother and I then had 2 years of driving experience in the box and both unsuspectingly switched to Volvo 144 and Saab 99. But it was still a cool car.

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    Marketing can sometimes go off in the wrong direction. Bitter.

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    Learned something again...

    As someone whose earliest automotive childhood memory is of their father's 1972 Volvo, it would never have occurred to me that conventional glass could have been legal in 1976...

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      Is it really like that? I can hardly believe it. It wasn't just laminated glass.

      There was safety glass that was cast, drawn, bent, rolled and tempered so that it crumbled bluntly. The side windows of the Volvo weren't laminated either. I broke one when I was a kid. But it was safety and not window glass. Did Opel really still use conventional glass and potentially sharp splinters as a windshield in 1976, and was it allowed to do so?
      Sounds more like the 1930s to 1950s to me, like pretzel windows and split screen...

    • That was so, because the story still has a personal, tragic component. One of my cousins ​​drove a Kadett City, without the J. As a novice driver, and first car. He had a serious accident and the Opel had a normal windscreen. Whether he would keep his eyesight was on the razor's edge for a few days - luckily everything turned out well. He never bought an Opel again.

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        oh man
        this is really hard stuff and historically fascinating and disturbing at the same time ...
        Window glass from Rüsselsheim with the blessing of TÜV and politics? 1976! Who would have thought?

        I'm a bit floored now. I really had a sheltered childhood and youth in a Swede. I thought most of it was normal...

        I was well aware that the Swedes liked to lead the way when it came to safety. But window glass as a windshield? Really crude …
        Like I said, learned something again.

        How did the competitors fare? Was the Golf also available with window glass?

        • Oh, I'm not that old to be able to answer that without a doubt. I only remember that it was an issue with Käfer and Co with uncles and aunts.


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