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The Kadett D was introduced in the middle of August 1979, with deliveries on the home market beginning early in September 1979. In November 1979, the car went on sale in the United Kingdom, some five months before the Vauxhall Astra Mark 1, the British version, was launched in April 1980. The cars were designed as three- or five-door hatchbacks and estates or station wagons. There were also two- and four-door sedans featuring separate boots/trunks, which shared the silhouettes of the hatchbacks: in the United Kingdom, the sedan versions were soon withdrawn, until the 1986 launch of the MKII-based Belmont. For the first time since 1965 there was no coupé-bodied Kadett in the range: the previous Kadett C coupé was indirectly replaced by the three-door 1.3 SR sports model.
A mark of General Motors' confidence in their plans for the small car sector, and something that the Opel Kadett and the Vauxhall Viva had in common, was that the manufacturer built for each new model a completely new car plant in a region characterized by relatively high unemployment and the availability of a skilled workforce, but with no strong tradition of volume auto-making. The Vauxhall Viva was the first car built at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant while the Kadett A was the first product of Opel's new purpose built Bochum plant. Ellesmere Port and Bochum would effectively become sister plants, producing subsequent generations of Kadett as well as their Vauxhall badged sisters (the Chevette and Astra) for the next fifty years.
The transfer gearbox in the AWD models — the same as used in the Vauxhall Cavalier AWD—was somewhat on the flimsy side, liable to suffer damage from conditions such as minor differences in tyre wear or tyre pressure between front and rear axles. Since front and rear tyres would naturally wear at different rates in normal driving, it was necessary to swap front with rear tyres every 15,000 miles (24,000 km).
While the Ipanema clearly succeeded the Marajó, production of the Chevette (by now in sedan form only, the hatchback having been discontinued after the 1987 model year) and of the Kadett noticeably overlapped; the newer model was placed above the old one in Chevrolet's lineup. While Chevrolet entertained the possibility of a pick-up version of the Kadett E, it never materialized.