The lat­est (good and bad) news on Vaux­hall

Brexit might tip the bal­ance, says new boss

CAR (UK) - - Contents - NICK GIBBS

AMID THE swirling un­cer­tainty over what’s go­ing to hap­pen to the Vaux­hall fac­to­ries of Ellesmere Port and Lu­ton un­der PSA Peu­geot-Citroën own­er­ship, we have pinned down one piece of good news for those who cher­ish the Vaux­hall brand: PSA boss Car­los Tavares won’t ditch it in favour of Opel.

‘Why would I do that? I don’t think that makes any sense,’ he told CAR at the Frank­furt show in Septem­ber. ‘I think it’s ex­actly the op­po­site. We should lever­age the power of the Vaux­hall brand.’

Tavares is pre­par­ing a plan for Vaux­hall/Opel, to be re­vealed in Novem­ber, and wouldn’t be drawn on how ex­actly he’ll fold the loss-mak­ing brand into PSA. But he’s been vo­cal on the need to cut costs, lead­ing some an­a­lysts to pre­dict Vaux­hall could be dumped in favour of Opel in the UK, not least be­cause the brand’s im­age lags so badly among car buy­ers.

Tavares be­lieves the Vaux­hall brand still car­ries clout in the UK. ‘I see the mar­ket share, that’s the only in­di­ca­tor I have,’ he said, adding: ‘From a pure busi­ness per­spec­tive I see no rea­son not to surf on the his­tory of Vaux­hall. It’s a fan­tas­tic his­tory.’

He’s right about that. Vaux­hall started build­ing cars in 1903, and quickly gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a maker of fast, stylish ma­chines. That was con­tin­ued with mod­ern clas­sics such as the Firenza HP ‘Droop­snoot’, Lo­tus Carl­ton and As­tra GTE.

What’s less con­vinc­ing is Tavares’s em­pha­sis on mar­ket share as an in­di­ca­tor of brand power. Vaux­hall will al­most cer­tainly lose its long-held No2 po­si­tion be­hind Ford to Volk­swa­gen this year as sales slide. In the eight months to the end of Au­gust, they fell 19 per cent as Vaux­hall strug­gled to re­place loss-mak­ing fleet sales with prof­itable pri­vate sales.

Vaux­hall’s two Bri­tish plants build the As­tra and Vi­varo van. What hap­pens to those, ac­cord­ing to Tavares, will be dic­tated by two things: their com­pet­i­tive­ness with the PSA fac­tory net­work, and the terms agreed for Bri­tain’s exit from the Euro­pean Union in March 2019. Tavares has asked his team to draw up two sce­nar­ios by Christmas for ‘a closed mar­ket or open mar­ket’, he said. Essen­tially, hard Brexit or soft. This will af­fect his de­ci­sion on ‘in­vest­ments, prod­uct al­lo­ca­tions, man­u­fac­tur­ing changes, pro­cesses’ – essen­tially whether Ellesmere gets the new As­tra come 2021 and what hap­pens to the Vi­varo.

Tavares will visit Ellesmere Port ‘in a few weeks’ to per­form the same cost and ef­fi­ciency com­par­i­son as PSA has done on two Opel plants: Zaragoza in Spain and the Rus­selsheim plant in Ger­many. He wasn’t im­pressed. ‘From what I have seen PSA plants are more pro­duc­tive and more ef­fi­cient than the Opel sites. The gaps are sig­nif­i­cantly big,’ he told jour­nal­ists at Frank­furt. So while the Vaux­hall brand looks to be safe, we might yet lose UK pro­duc­tion.

Vaux­hall will al­most cer­tainly lose its No2 UK sales rank­ing

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