1899: Opel began producing automobiles 125 years ago

January 21, 1899: Opel Began Producing Automobiles 125 Years Ago
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  • Start of an era: 1899 contract-signing made Opel an automobile manufacturer 
  • Current bestsellers “made in Rüsselsheim”: Opel Astra and Astra Sports Tourer 
  • Anniversary under banner of electromobility: Battery-electric variant of every Opel carline in 2024 

Rüsselsheim.  2024 is a special year for Opel, under the banner of electromobility. For the first time in the brand’s history, every model will have a battery-electric variant – above all the new Opel Astra Sports Tourer Electric, one of the first battery-electric estate cars on the market. However, the company laid the foundation for affordable, innovative and future-proof mobility on four wheels 125 years ago. On January 21, 1899, Wilhelm Opel, son of the company founder Adam Opel, signed a contract with the locksmith Friedrich Lutzmann to buy his Motorwagenfabrik (motor car factory), the starting signal for automobile production at Opel. This marked the start of a new era that would write history far beyond Rüsselsheim. A previously successful sewing machine and bicycle manufacturer, Opel thus ventured into territory unknown to the company exactly 125 years ago.  

Since then, more than 75 million Opel vehicles have left the production plants all over Europe. One of the current bestsellers comes from Rüsselsheim: the latest generation of the Opel Astra. As Opel marks the 125th anniversary of automobile production and sets course for the future, the innovative compact class model rolls off the assembly line today with advanced technologies and electrified, locally emissions-free drivetrains.  

Opel CEO, Florian Huettl: “Like Opel 125 years ago, we are now at the beginning of a new era. Back then, the company became a pioneer by entering the automobile age. Nowadays, Opel is an electric pioneer, offering locally emissions-free, individual mobility that is also suitable for everyday use. Such as the new Astra Sports Tourer Electric. Like the first Opel automobile, this car also comes from Rüsselsheim. We are proud of this heritage and will therefore be celebrating the anniversary of ‘125 years of automobile production at Opel under the banner of electromobility”.  

From 1860 to 1899: From sewing machines and bicycles to automobiles 

 

Opel’s success story began in 1862. Adam Opel built his first sewing machine in Rüsselsheim, thereby laying the foundation for the company. Opel soon developed into one of the largest sewing machine manufacturers in Germany and exported all over Europe. With the bicycle, Opel gained its next successful foothold. The first penny-farthing was built in Rüsselsheim in 1886, making Opel one of the first bicycle makers in Germany. In the 1920s – in parallel to the car business – Opel became the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, a success for which the sons of the now deceased company founder were responsible.  

They are also the ones who made the fundamental change to motorised transportation for the Opel company. Due to a decline in the bicycle business in the 1890s, the Opel brothers were searching for new products and came across the automobile. Fritz and Wilhelm Opel visited the first German Motor Show in Berlin in 1897 and met Friedrich Lutzmann there. The master locksmith had been producing motor cars since 1894 and therefore had the experience the Opel brothers were looking for. He invited the Opel brothers to his factory in Dessau where Fritz and Wilhelm immediately recognised the potential for automobile manufacturing that Lutzmann offered them.  

While all involved initially thought of a cooperation, the Opel brothers then made Lutzmann an attractive offer for the entire production, including land, building and workshop equipment. On January 21, 1899, Wilhelm Opel and Friedrich Lutzmann signed the contract for a purchase price of 116,887 marks and the factory became the property of Opel.  

The whole company, including employees and machinery, was relocated from Dessau to the Opel headquarters in Rüsselsheim. Lutzmann himself was appointed sales manager of the Adam Opel Motorfahrzeug-Fabrik.  

The takeover of the production and patents meant that Opel immediately gained years of experience in building motor vehicles. From then on, Lutzmann and selected employees brought in from Opel’s bicycle production manufactured cars under the name Opel in a specially erected building. The first advertisements for the new models appeared as early as spring 1899 and announced, “Opel motorcars are the best”.  

Pioneering achievement from Rüsselsheim: The new Astra Sports Tourer Electric 

 

While 125 years ago the Opel-Patentmotorwagen System Lutzmann was a pioneering achievement as the first automobile from Rüsselsheim, today this is the latest generation of the bestseller Opel Astra, which is designed, developed and manufactured there. The especially dynamic electrified top models Astra GSe and Astra Sports Tourer GSe (fuel consumption according to WLTP[1]: 1.3 l/100 km, CO2 emissions 30-29 g/km) roll off the assembly line in Rüsselsheim, along with the new Astra Sports Tourer Electric. The all-electric compact class estate, one of the first of its kind, made its world premiere at last year’s IAA Mobility, impressing all with its design, comfort and spaciousness, and especially its performance. The electric motor delivers 115 kW/156 hp and a powerful 270 Newton meters of maximum torque. And while many other electric cars are limited to 150 km/h or 160 km/h, the new Astra Sports Tourer Electric can reach a top speed of 170 km/h. A driving range of up to 413 km (WLTP[2]) is possible on a single charge of the battery. State-of-the-art technologies, such as the class-leading Intelli-Lux LED Pixel Light with 168 LED elements, and the Intelli-Drive 2.0 system with semi-automatic lane change and intelligent speed adaptation, are also available.  

125 years after the start of automobile production in Rüsselsheim, Opel and its customers are driving into the future locally emissions-free, with vehicles that are fun to drive and suitable for everyday use. 2024 will be marked by the major anniversary and Opel’s continued journey towards electrification, accompanied by celebrations as well as innovative new models. More information about the anniversary year will follow soon.