GM's Symbol of Hope in Europe: The Opel Mokka SUV

RUSSELHEIM, GERMANY -- ( TheStreet) -- As bad as it is, the European automobile market can still produce a few positive surprises. Even GM's ( GM) European operations, projected to lose up to $1.8 billion this year, has "green shoots, sprouting in the mud," according to GM Europe President Steve Girsky.

Among the tallest of the green shoots is the Opel Mokka, a compact SUV, the first one ever produced by a German brand.

"We have 45,000 orders on hand from the Mokka from dealers and customers," Girsky said during GM's third-quarter earnings call last week. "Frankly, we can only deliver about 30,000 this year. It's been a long time since Opel has had a product that's this tight. We're basically going to fill 60%, 65% of what people want of that car."

Mokka is among the earliest of the 23 new vehicles that GM will have in Europe by 2016. If its sales performance could be replicated, that could contribute toward GM's goal of breaking even in Europe by the end of the decade, a big change in a region where GM has lost more than $17 billion since 1999.

"The (compact) SUV segment is booming in Europe, and this is the first vehicle by a German OEM to enter the SUV B segment, which creates a lot of interest," said Martin Golka, Opel's group product manager for small and mini cars, in an interview.

Primary competition in the segment is from the Nissan Juke, the ¿koda Yeti and the Mitsubishi ASX. Golka said customers are drawn to the Mokka by "the styling, the better command of the road and the higher seating position -- the big and bold SUV attitude -- in a more compact package. It is easy to drive in urban environments and, also, it is economical to drive."

Mokka is a global vehicle, designed in Russelheim and produced in Korea. Production began June 25, with the first vehicles delivered in Germany in October. Mokka is sold as the Buick Encore in the United States and China and as the Vauxhall Mokka in the United Kingdom. Golka called Mokka "one of my babies."

Following the Oct. 31 earnings call, several analysts said they can see daylight for GM in Europe. Some reiterated buys on GM which was trading at $25.16, down $1.03, in mid-morning trading on Wednesday. UBS analyst Colin Langan raised his price target to $33 from $29 and said he believes the company's planned "inventory destocking" of 100,000 units would offset an estimated 2013 sales decline of 60,000 units and add $200 million to profits. S&P Capital IQ analyst Efraim Levy reiterated a buy, saying that "we believe GM now has a more realistic approach to its European restructuring."

Jefferies analyst Peter Nesvold has a hold and a $29 price target. He wrote, "Europe has been a nagging overhang; our sense has been that investors have been looking to at least put a box around the size of the operating losses in Europe," which is what GM has done.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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