“We Took the
Criticism to Heart”



One of the most prestigious prizes in the automotive sector: The award „European Car of the Year“ was founded in 1964.



The tension mounts at Lake Geneva. 58 renowned journalists from across Europe award the decisive points. The seven finalists for the 2016 Car of the Year will be announced soon. Jean-Philippe Kempf, Manager of International Product & Brand Communications at Opel, exhales deeply and tries to calm his nerves. His eyes are glued to an enormous LED panel, where the point distribution from Spain just appeared. Now all that remains are the results from Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Great Britain.

Opel Astra - Car of the Year 2016

Adrenaline and a lot of happiness hormones characterize this photo: After winning the COTY finals the Opel team proudly displays the award – thereby PR Manager Jean-Philippe Kempf touches his knee.


Kicking off the automotive year, the Geneva Motor Show takes place on 29 February this year. It is a little reminiscent of the Eurovision Song Contest. But the people here are not nervously awaiting the famous ‘twelve points – douze points.’ Instead, everyone eagerly anticipates the awarding of the Car of the Year winner. The new Astra pushes into second place with the results from Spain now. With 29 points, it looks like a solid standing.


“It’s still not set in stone,” mumbles Kempf, without taking his eyes off the board. You can literally feel his tension. He incessantly twirls a pen between his fingers.



The disguised prototype on a highway: Journalists perform the first test rides in the still camouflaged Astra K.


Action in Rodgau-Dudenhofen: In the Opel Test Center the journalists forming the COTY jury committee can get to know the new Astra in detail.



Leading the way: On the race track they also test the adaptive IntelliLux LED matrix light system with which the compact bestseller is launched as the first Opel.


The „Car of The Year“ winners by Opel

This year’s victory takes Opel’s total “Car of the Year” tally to five. The Opel Kadett E was the first car from Rüsselsheim to win the award in 1985. Two years later, the Omega A once again took the pan-European accolade. In recent years, Opel has come out on top twice – with the Insignia in 2009 and the Ampera in 2012. 



1985 Kadett E

1987 Omega A

Opel Insignia

2009 Insignia


2012 Ampera


2016 Astra K


„The journalists were quite enthusiastic!“

Jean-Philippe Kempf
Manager Opel International Product &
Brand Communications


It is no wonder. The PR specialist has worked long and hard for this day to come. Together with his team, the French national spent an entire year selecting test vehicles for the COTY (Car of the Year) jury members, preparing and giving presentations. All activities centered on convincing the jury that the new Astra was everything it should be.


“We established a new focus for each event. It started in April 2015 when the first members of the COTY jury drove the Astra, which we had camouflaged. The journalists were to get an initial impression of the new diesel and gasoline engines and of how the vehicle handles,” explains Kempf in retrospect, as he awaits the final decision in Geneva, Switzerland. “We hoped the jury would see right away that we listened to them, and we took to heart the criticism that had been expressed around the Astra’s predecessor.” What he is referring to is that the new Astra offers more interior space and comfort, despite its shortened overall length. It is nearly 200 kilos lighter and the engines are more efficient.



A long selection process went ahead the victory: Each year leading automotive journalists from all over Europe, this time there were experts from 22 countries, make up an in-depth picture of all new cars in the European market.


Yet, the first time behind the wheel of the new Astra was just to get the ball rolling. The seven finalists had to pass through a barrage of engagements before the final nomination came. The Astra was launched in Bratislava, Slovakia in September. In Tannis, Denmark, the jury test drove 61 new entries for the European automotive market in October. Two months later, the finalists were named, and the Astra K made the shortlist – one of the magnificent seven. The action heated up as Kempf and his team moved into the final phase during the chilly winter months. The jury was invited to the Opel Test Center in Rodgau-Dudenhofen, Germany in January, where the focus was placed on the adaptive IntelliLux LED matrix light. “The journalists were quite enthusiastic,” according to Kempf. The last set of test drives took place in Mortefontaine, France, which is an hour’s drive north of Paris, just two weeks before the awards ceremony.


The COTY journalists had a chance to test drive all of the finalists at one go for the first time. “That’s where we demonstrated the Astra’s innovative driver assistance systems and the infotainment features. The feedback was quite positive again.” We really impressed the jury with the range of safety related systems and OnStar, Opel’s personal online and service assistant.

At this moment, though, Mortefontaine, Rodgau-Dudenhofen, and Tannis are far off in the distance – everyone is focusing on Geneva, where the final decision is being made. The Astra’s fate now lies in the hands of the six British journalists who are the last to award their points. The Astra is still 26 points ahead.


The results come pouring in: Faster than PR mastermind Kempf can twiddle his pen between his fingers, the United Kingdom’s points appear on the scoreboard. The Astra is still in first place. Kempf jumps up, cheers, and hugs his coworkers. Coldplay’s ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ begins to play ­– a final musical touch evocative of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Text: Max Köhling, photos: Opel