The Humble Opinion: Vauxhall & PSA – Sometimes I feel so embarrassed to be British!

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…

Mike Humble

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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!

 

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The ongoing bar room topic that was… and still is… MG Rover. Even the Phoenix management said, in so many words upon take over in 2000 that they were dead in the water without a collaborative (foreign) partner. If only some people could embrace and support the present as much as crying over the spilt milk of the past.

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.

 

 

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I must admit the timing hasn’t been brilliant – just as the rather slick looking all new Insignia Grand Sport is due to hit the UK showrooms.

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.

 


6 thoughts on “The Humble Opinion: Vauxhall & PSA – Sometimes I feel so embarrassed to be British!

  1. Its all very depressingly similar. 40 years ago we let Peugeot take over Rootes (CHRYSLER Europe) and we waived goodbye to the motor industry in Scotland, then latterly Ryton.

    Cant see vauxhall opel surviving long term, psa have effectively wiped out direct competition, with over capacity accross the EU it doesnt look good. Vauxhall /opel do make good cars,but Psa will prefer to build their own brands first.

    As Shirley basey once crooned when she teamed up with the Propellerheads… “its just a little bit of history repeating itself”

  2. You couldn’t be more wrong about the demise of Saab. Fact. But I can’t be bothered explaining it to someone who thinks the sun shines out of his arse.

  3. Not sure I totally agree with you on SAAB Mike. Yes SAAB was struggling at the time it was sold to GM but that was more down to its need to achieve critical volume as well as a recent joint venture with Lancia – to share development costs of the 9000 – having fallen apart, mainly due to SAAB’s desire to remain true to its engineering designs or its quirkiness, depending on your point of view.

    However, the problem was that once GM bought SAAB, it didn’t really know what to do with it. Had GM invested in SAAB, the same way VW did with AUDI, it could have made a real go of SAAB. Shared platforms, off roaders, SUV’s….The Astra could have made a good base for a SAAB 9-2 model, you could make SUV’s out of similar models in the GM range in the same way. Advertised it as something premium but not German. Something different. Jaguar/Land Rover trade on this but use the Britishness as a selling point. SAAB could have done the Swedish style – think IKEA on wheels….

    But they didn’t. They just let it bumble along. So much so it was selling in its biggest market two cars based on a warmed over Vectra and an Omega by the time GM got cold feet. I mean the Omega was over fifteen years old by this point.

    As a former SAAB owner, I miss the company. Say to people you drive an AUDI/Merc or BMW you almost got a sneer. Say you drove a SAAB and you got a nod of approval. I’m not saying the cars were brilliant but they did make you feel good. But GM was a bad owner that never appreciated the company. And then jettisoned it the first chance it got….

    And I fear now the same thing will happen to Vauxhall/Opel. The ranges overlap. All I envisage is another Talbot scenario. Despite the almost hysterical claims that Vauxhall could be sold to JLR, no one has really explained why such a move would happen. Vauxhall is barely known outside the UK. The differences between Vauxhall and Opel are no more than the location of the steering wheel and some badges. There’s no logic in selling it on and to relaunch it on mass-market versions of the XE or XF would cost a small fortune. It’s a non-starter and is more stated in hope that in realistic terms. I fear that in some point in the future Vauxhall/Opel will go the way of MG Rover and SAAB, to that great scrapyard in the sky. I hope I’m wrong though.

  4. Our first car was an Opel Rekord ’77. As a consequence, i got myself to fancy opels. fast forward in 2015. After my A3 was placed for a month in a garage, i was given an Insignia. First impression not good, although the car look the part. Problem is that the dashboard looked just not right. I felt confused and obstructed by the design. Looked modern, but not nice to use it in real driving life. The stereo was a joke. And if this is a matter of taste, the feeling of the gearchange is definetely not. It made me wonder, GM has been employed thousands engineers and designers: why not one of them has not try to check what is best out there and tried to do at least the same. Even my previous car, a 2004 toyota yaris, was a league ahead in terms of gearchanging or easy of driving. If this applies to opels, imagine what one would think about saabs, that were supposed to be bmws competent…

  5. To be fair, GM did try to uplift SAAB. We had more sales success in the dying years under General Motors than we ever did when SAAB was flying alone under the SAAB SCANIA banner. What ruined it was the enthusiast owners bemoaning everything the company did. We had a range of petrol and diesel models, estate cars and access to GM finance, for once we had a range of cars we could sell against fleet and rival retail customers. With a bit of effort on a national scale things would have been much different in my honest opinion.

    With volume levels of sales we of course ended up with more warranty problems but that’s all relative to the number of cars that get built / sold. Of course the old 900 and 9000 models were superb cars, but they came with a serious drawback – they sold in penny numbers to owners who kept hold of them like family heirlooms, once a retail had been sold you would be lucky if you saw the customer again in the showroom for ten years. The public forget that the motor trade is a business not a flight of romantic and enthusiast whimsy.

    GM wrestled with the rather unique mind-set of the traditional owners and perhaps didn’t apply more discipline regarding dealers marketing prowess. Too many other SAAB dealers were comfortable selling just a handful of new cars relying on their profit coming from sizable used car depts or by running another franchise alongside. Yet on the whole the product range was very good and dare I say it different enough to win sales from rivals, the 9-3 estate was one of the most striking looking cars of its time and rather cheap to run with diesel power.

    I speak with experience as we had four decades with the brand, most of them extremely happy ones in all honesty. But getting back on track, I agree that we as a nation ought to be ashamed of the way we knock, bash and discredit our motor manufacturers. We clearly have learnt NOTHING from past events and if we don’t buy our products they vanish along with the factories that build them.

    Honda, Nissan and Toyota do a damn fine job at building cars here and long may they do so. As do Jaguar Land Rover to great universal acclaim along with BMW MINI. Our managers may once have not been able to manage but our workers and engineers continue to do a world class job. No where near enough is done to celebrate this fact and yes I do worry about brexit but I think not much will change once the dust settles.

    Just please ensure that businesses like the motor trade are kept well away from the enthusiasts, they seldom dip into their pockets and buy a new car. However, now is the time to respect, if not support our motor manufacturing industry. If we don’t seem to care then why should the Foreign owners continue to invest?

    Best Wishes

    Bob

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