On the Road
with Opel’s Head Engineer



Charlie Klein is Vice President Vehicle Engineering, Europe. In his position, he leads the team of more than 6,000 engineers at the International Technical Development Center (ITDC) in Ruesselsheim. Klein has held a variety of manufacturing, planning, and product development positions within the General Motors engineering organization. He began his career with GM in 1979 with the Oldsmobile Division in Lansing, Michigan.


“The will and the drive for excellence shown across the organization during the development of this car makes it one of my absolute favorites.”

Charles J. Klein, Vice President Vehicle Engineering Europe


The key message for the new Opel Astra is clear – lighter, more efficient and only powered by our latest and most advanced engines. But this message does not reveal all of the elements of Opel’s latest star on the compact car horizon. The two that immediately come to mind are passion and excellence. The passion and pride that has gone into the eleventh generation compact class car from Rüsselsheim immediately becomes apparent when Charles J. Klein, Vice President Engineering Europe, gets close to a new Opel Astra.

“There is an initiative that really came forward from the new Astra called excellence in execution. So what we have done on the new Astra is take our level of execution even higher,” says Klein before adding: “Our top leaders not only asked us to deliver it but expected us to deliver it. So what you will see when you walk around the Astra are examples of where that excellence of execution comes out. Whether it’s the crispness of a feature line, the tightness of a radii in the corner of a hood, the corner of a deck-lid, , the absolute precision fit that you will see between tail lamps, headlamps and fascia, the gap and flushness of the controls – all of those things have been taken to a point of real precision. What people see is that the fit and finish of the car stands out.”


Video  →


Clip 1: Insight into the development of the new Opel Astra


Clip 2: Insight into the Matrix Light and Infotainment




Once inside the car the eyes of the experienced engineer who started his GM career with Oldsmobile in 1979 really start to sparkle – even though the engine has not even been started yet. “One of the first things you notice when you get into a new Astra is the high quality fit, finish, and material quality about the car. The sense of fidelity and great refinement just jumps out at you. Some of the GCA scores, one of the internal measurements we use, are among the best we have in the company. So to be at this point of the launch and to have this level of fidelity and high quality is really terrific,” he enthuses.

He continues to praise further innovations such as the “dynamite” IntelliLux LED® system and the new IntelliLink infotainment system in combination with Opel OnStar. “I think that we have really gotten the industries’ attention with our new IntelliLux LED® system. The improved visibility makes for a safer driving environment not only for the driver but for all other users of the road. And the new infotainment system is great too. It’s faster, simpler, and displayed much more clearly. Of course, it is tied to OnStar which will bring a personal advisor, vehicle diagnostics, Wi-Fi hotspot and much more to the car,” said the chief engineer who was initially puzzled by the rate of acceptance of the personal connectivity and service assistant in Europe.

Klein continued: “Honestly, to really understand OnStar, you have to experience it. Unlocking doors, to get your vehicle diagnostics on the fly when you have a light in the cluster, down load a destination into your NAV – they all offer such real customer benefit and the possibilities offered by Wi-Fi are unbelievable – your car can become like your living environment with streaming. I believe it offers a huge competitive advantage.”


Video  →


Clip 3: Insight into OnStar and Noise Reduction


Clip 4: Insight into the teamwork during production


Having taken up his new role as Vice President Vehicle Engineering Europe in January of this year, Klein openly admits that his contribution to the development of the new Astra was limited but nonetheless he immediately got involved in areas where he felt he could really take the project to a new level of excellence. “I obviously watched it from a distance in my prior role and have the greatest respect for what the team did. The Astra is at the heart of our line-up. It is extremely important for our reputation. Therefore, along with others I was involved in launch and influenced the final tuning and performance in so-called knothole rides,” explains Klein.


 “The powertrains in this vehicle are terrific.
They are quiet, very refined and wonderfully fuel efficient.”

Charles J. Klein, Vice President Vehicle Engineering Europe


Media pro: Video experts prepare the GoPro cameras inside the car, Klein is waiting patiently.


With the engine now running, the chief engineer is really in his element. With almost 2,000 kilometers behind the wheel of camouflaged vehicles during the development phase, he has clearly put in the miles to ensure that the Astra offers the best possible driving experience. “When I drive the car during testing all senses are involved. The feel of the door opening, the sound of the door closing, the feel of a switch, the precision of the steering, and even the smell of the car when you get in – our evaluations take every sense into consideration because we want to evaluate it like our customers do,” he explains.

Obviously, one of the most important things in a car is the engine and the associated elements and Klein is excited by the powertrains available for the new Astra. “The powertrains in this vehicle are terrific. They are quiet, very refined and wonderfully fuel efficient.”

With over 35 years at GM, the Vice President Vehicle Engineering Europe has seen many vehicles being developed over the years but he cannot hide his affection for the latest addition to the Opel family. With the same sparkle in his eye and passion in his voice he admits: “I have had the great privilege to work with many talented and passionate people over the years and have been involved in some great projects but the new Astra is definitely up there with the best. The fit and the finish quality is at a place we didn’t think we could get. The will and the drive for excellence shown across the organization during the development of this car makes it one of my absolute favorites.”



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Text: Mark Bennett, Photos: Andreas Liebschner Asterion