The news is now official – Opel & Vauxhall are to be sold to PSA – owners of Citroen, DS Automobiles & Peugeot. Its too early to tell what this means to Vauxhalls plants in Beds and Cheshire but reading some comments only hours after this conformation came through, I wonder if we deserve any motor manufacturing at all in the UK. And some of you claim to be car enthusiasts? Don’t make me laugh…
Well its official, Vauxhall – Britain’s oldest car manufacturer has been sold to the European PSA group noted for their brands of Citroen, DS and Peugeot. Both parties are saying its a good thing – of which they are bound to of course, but just is it?
At the moment nobody knows what the future will bring although there has been positive words from the PSA CEO about manpower and production. Why has this come about? simply put, the American General Motors corporation has been struggling for many years to show a surplus figure on its books, not just solely European speaking with Vauxhall and Opel either. The whole group is battling to grapple with costs due to increasing competition. The truth is the Opel / Vauxhall arm of the business is just a tiny division of this truly global giant – and its a loss maker.
We saw just how parlous the GM situation was a few year back when they offloaded SAAB onto Spyker Automotive, but to be fair, SAAB was a dying brand when the Americans took it over all those years ago. General Motors did the right thing by cutting the cost base and tried to turn the brand into a semi-volume manufacturer. Prior to this, SAAB were an engineering led plaything tacked onto the Swedish truck builder – Scania. Selling to just a narrow customer base of eccentrics in penny numbers, had GM not got involved with SAAB, the maker of rather tasty but quirky Scandinavian cars would have disappeared a decade earlier…. fact!
Once SAAB finally sparkade hinken as they would say in Sweden, the emotional backlash kicked into play of how tragic it was and how GM killed them. In fact… they didn’t. They gave the company a fighting chance of survival in a world where quirky, oddball eccentric vehicles just don’t cut the mustard anymore. Motor manufacturing is a cruel world that revolves around two and only two important things: Sales and profit. I would vociferously argue the point that you cannot let personal emotion get in the way of running a business. You have you detach your emotions when it comes to manufacturing. I often sigh when I read comments from car “enthusiasts” about now defunct brands… enthusiasts seldom make good business decisions… fact!
We saw the same public outcry when MG Rover finally faded away in April 2005. And even now some twelve years later, a torch is still carried for the brand which to be fair was dead some years before it became official – I should know, I was there. Public outcry is one thing when it relates to British brands but it seldom relates to vehicle sales… or at least it rarely does in the long term. I distinctly remember a HUGE surge in MG Rover sales when it was announced that Phoenix had taken over MGR from the clutches of BMW – sadly the uplift lasted at best a couple of months. To this day in 2017 people still cling to the pointless and time wasting hope that Longbridge will become great once again… it wont. Yet its often the same public who spent all those years knocking and laughing at the firm long before the events of 2005.
And now we have a similar situation with Vauxhall. Barely hours after the PSA take-over deal has been confirmed, some of the armchair know-nowts who profess to be car enthusiasts have already written off Ellesmere Port and Luton. I will bet you my last Rolo that if in the future these two plants are sadly closed for whatever reason, these same people will be venting their angst and emotions all over their keyboards over the loss of yet two more car plants in Britain. For every comment that writes off Vauxhall it gives the new owners another reason to close it down and the knock on effect is far reaching. Suppliers, sub contractors, hauliers and service providers depend on our British car plants and those employees, some of them yourselves, ought to think very hard about that.
GM Europe has gone to great lengths to freshen up their car range over the past few years. I applauded the new Astra for example, not purely on a patriotic whimsy, but simply because its a bloody good car. The soon to be launched new Insignia Grand Sport is another model that promises to move the brand from the ranks of the also-rans into a front runner. Of course this recent news will cast doubt into the minds of some potential buyers considering a stroll to their local Vauxhall showroom but my take on all this is that business should go on as usual. It makes not one iota of difference to me if you are a Vauxhall fan or not, but consideration should be made regarding your thoughts about British manufacturing as a whole
Having lived in Bedfordshire during the 2002 axing of Vauxhall car production in Luton, I witnessed many good men and women loose their livelihood – all of them staunchly proud of their input to manufacturing as a whole, all of them heartbroken. Another moment that made me think was the fork lift driver who came clanking by at Ellesmere while I was taking pictures of the new Astra outside at the factory launch in 2015. He came drifting to a halt whereby he asked me what I thought of it, I made the question rhetorical; “everyone’s bloody proud of that” came his reply and off he trundled. I do sometimes worry about the British mentality of sniping and rubbishing our own at every chance… only to cry like lost kittens when everything has gone.
Lets digress and look at Jaguar Land Rover. Once a manufacturer of unreliable poorly built executive cars that only appealed to snobbery. Now under foreign (Tata) ownership perhaps but every inch British designed and built smashing sales records with engineering and technological led products the whole world are clamouring to buy – its the same success with MINI too. Anyone who thinks Rover of old could have nurtured the MINI brand into the success of today are only fooling themselves – bear in mind they had over 40 years to try. Nobody cares these days who owns the brands so long as they remain in blighty to build them – and of course with some British identity. Its good to celebrate the past but infinitely more important to appreciate the now and help shape the future.
Lets get behind our manufacturing and not give the European owners any excuse to shut down Vauxhall or any other British manufacturing plants. Its time to grow up, shrug off the xenophobic and defeatists attitudes, give the Europeans one less reason to poke fun at us and crack on building some of the worlds best motor vehicles. If you have nothing positive to say…
For gods sake say nothing.