Used Cars: Vauxhall / Network Q visited.

Mike Humble:

It started off with small beginnings over 25 years ago but soon developed into the most well known used car operations of its kind in the world. I took a visit to the epic site in Northamptonshire to find out…

 

Just who is Network Q?

Network Q
The massive Network Q operations site on the edge of Corby has capacity for over 6000 vehicles at any one time. It was designed and purpose built purely for Vauxhall.

For the past few months, I’ve been running a Vauxhall Insignia on a long term test programme for Parkers and its just come to the end of its time with me. What I first thought to be a rather plain bordering on dull car, it actually ended up getting under my skin… for good reasons I must say.

Just a few days before the time of handing the keys back over I was contacted and asked if I would like the chance to actually see what goes into selecting and preparing a used car prior to its dispatch into Vauxhalls Network Q used car scheme. Not being one to shirk the opportunity of a behinds the scenes look-see, I couldn’t say no.

By the time you have read this, the Insignia I had been piling on the miles with will have already gone through the process and more than likely been sold from a main dealers forecourt. So what exactly is Network Q and what do they do to make it Europe’s largest and most involving used car purchasing scheme?

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The Insignia I ran for Parkers. It came from and went back into the Network Q system.
Vauxhall spent some £5 million on the scheme, up to and including the national launch back in March, 1991. Some went on one year’s test-marketing in the Midlands, and another £1.5 million was spent on a launch campaign on its national T.V advertising campaign. Participating dealers contribute £20 towards the advertising costs, for each used car sold.

Originally a localised dealership scheme, Network Q started out quite small. From the start, dealers actually bought into the programme and cars or vans were selected at a local level overseen by a small army of regional based quality managers. Today it operates as Europe’s largest used car system operating from one centrally located site dedicated purely to Vauxhall and Network Q needs.

As a rule of thumb some 150 vehicles arrive daily onto the purpose built Corby site but this number has been known to exceed 300. To date well over a million cars and vans have gone through the system that includes paint, trim, wheel and upholstery repairs to a very high standard. Even on the relatively quiet day when I was there was a notable hubbub of transporters were coming and going with alarming regularity.

Upon entering the site the vehicles are logged into a computer system whereby they are visually checked for damage and imperfections caused by daily driving and fair wear and tear. Only the best are cars are sourced via a strict buyback and fleet management programme.

The cars and vans are sourced from various places. These can vary from Vauxhalls own press fleet, well known car rental outlets or short term leasing companies. In a nutshell any outlet where the car can be traced, tracked, verified and pedigree guaranteed from the day of its original registration.

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An Astra awaits its front bumper to be refitted. A typical minor repair for a car that came from a well known rental fleet.
Exacting Standards… Every time:

By keeping to a very strict and regimented process driven programme, the end user enjoys a better and quality orientated used car buying experience. An added bonus means that standards are kept at a consistent high level. If a bumper for example needs removal during repair or touching up the same item goes back onto the car, if not then a new one is fitted.

Once a detailed inspection has taken place, items requiring attention are clearly marked on the car itself and its log. Only cosmetic attention is carried out so anything structural means the car has failed the quality threshold and the car is disposed or sold by other means. So… if a wing needs to be replaced for example, or the car has been involved is something more serious than a minor parking ding… its out.

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Only cosmetic repairs are undertaken. Anything else and the car fails the quality thresh. Here an Insignia Tourer receives preparation prior to yet another minor bumper repair.
Alloy wheels are X rayed for cracking and refurbished in house although the prestige diamond cut style of rim as found on some models require more specialist attention and equipment to deal with. For the time being these are out sourced to a company in Buckinghamshire. Currently Corby deals with an eye watering number of alloy wheels annually.

The level of technology and kit to hand in the workshops is impressive, as are some of the statistics I was shown on my visit. The Corby site features three paint booths, three baking ovens, two primer booths, one smart repair booth and the wheel department to end up with the following figures based over a typical year of operation.

  • In excess of 440,000 man hours of vehicle preparation
  • More than 17,000 alloy wheel refurbsiments
  • Over 40,000 vehicles completed
  • Some 21,000 bumper repairs

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Some Corsa alloys about receive their top coat of paint after refurbishment. Just one set of over 17,000 wheels which go through a similar process. 
Network Q were proud to tell me that only manufacturer based techniques are used in all aspects of the process and the skill set employed amounts to over 200 years of experience in automotive repair and refurbishment.

Mechanical and drive line checks are undertaken by a local Vauxhall dealer – Forrest Gate who operate on site with a fully kitted out van. They work on a call out basis and anything that cannot be dealt with on site results in the car being passed on to their dealership workshops just up the road.

Each department on first sight seems to represent organised chaos such is the sheer size and scale of the operation. However, Operations Manager Louise Cowlin was keen to point out that Network Q Corby which operates 24/7 is an extremely well-oiled machine and that a typical vehicle only stays on site for around 32 days from arrival to shipping out.

Time managed but quality driven:

All processes are strictly time managed to dovetail into one another and both management and workshop staff regularly meet to discuss new ideas or methods to reduce process time while still adhering to a very high level of end product quality. Workshop staff are in fact encouraged to offer their thoughts and many ideas have been adopted.

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Network Q cars can be photographed in this tailor made imaging suite. High definition pictures placed on the web so dealers can show potential customers the actual vehicle they are interested in literally minutes after exiting the workshops and valeting dept.
Dealers even have the facility to show a potential customer a vehicle that’s not in their stock thanks to a professional photographic booth complete with turntable. Consistent images are uploaded onto a website literally minutes after the car is fully valeted and its images taken. Watching the aforementioned taking place was quite impressive.

Thanks go to Justin Hawkins at Vauxhall UK HQ and Corby operations manager Louise Cowlin for her thorough insight of Network Q behind the scenes activity. Her total confidence and evident pride in her work and fellow team members were more than obvious to notice.

My tour of Network Q was informative and above all enjoyable. Customers do of course pay an extra premium over a traditional used car purchase for the privilege of buying through this scheme. That said, after witnessing the involvement of the process from start to finish its fair to apply to old adage of you only get what you pay for.

Watch this time lapse video showing a snippet of just what goes on behind the scenes at Network Q Corby by CLICKING HERE


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