The Humble Opinion: Vauxhall – Has unfair reporting made 2017 their annus horribilis?

Mike Humble:

This closing year is certainly going to be a memorable one, not just for myself but for Britain’s oldest serving automotive maker – Vauxhall. The company never seems to be out of the media limelight – mostly for the wrong reasons and often for journalistic sensation.

Isn’t it about time we took a more positive view on our motor manufacturing and supply chain base rather than take the same old boring and defeatist point of view?

Astra-Ellesmere-2
2017 has been an interesting year for Vauxhall to say the least. But have we been fair on them over recent developments? I don’t think so.

Just like good Queen Liz in 1992 as she so publicly declared in her famous Christmas speech, I am looking forward to putting this current one into the bin. Unlike our Royal Family, no-one in our lot got divorced, sold their story to the tabloids, had their toes sucked by a so called financial adviser… nor did our house burn down causing anyone to weep in public. My own 2017 has been nothing more than a year I’d much rather write off and put down to experience.

For me, 2017 wasn’t too bad until I discovered I was rather adept at dropping to the floor literally hours before Christmas day. And before you roll your eyes and conclude the obvious as myself finally becoming the Daniel Craig stunt double I rightfully should have been all along… it turned out to be a dormant and undiscovered kidney stone. To those who have experience of this – I feel your pain and to those who haven’t – Its like NOTHING you could ever possibly imagine.

But yet someone else, rather like myself who has had to swallow their fair share of bitter pills not to mention soaring back and forth through the pain barrier is Vauxhall Motors. For many years I have had an affiliation with the brand. My work experience as a fifteen year old nipper was spent at one of their showrooms, I’ve owned a fair few of their cars in the past and even went on to sell them new in one of the busiest showrooms in the North East of England. I’ve watched their fortunes rise and fall for many years.

While working and living in Bedford many moons ago, most of the towns engineering firms supplied them and my drinking mates in The White Horse worked on the tracks or offices at Luton. So as you can see, I’m blessed with plenty of tangible experience with Vauxhall, their staff and their products. Its all unbiased of course – they have certainly made some stinkers over the years but there again they have also given us some memorable pieces of automotive brilliance too.

people rarely seem to talk about the halcyon times of Vauxhall and the sadness of their recent struggles – weird. And yet mention MG Rover however and grown men still burst into tears – why oh why do we continue to embrace failure?

luton plant
Luton car assembly was killed off back in 2002 but still retains a van plant in the town with Astra production at Ellesmere Port. This will only continue if the company can operate with profitability – and plans are afoot to aim for this.

Vauxhall has certainly been through times of trouble that other manufacturers have failed to recover from. It’s UK design centre was killed off and car assembly at Luton was dead and gone by March 2002. Even the trading name had been quietly altered to GM UK Ltd in early 2008. Today, people rarely seem to talk about the halcyon times of Vauxhall and the sadness of their recent struggles – weird. And yet mention MG Rover however and grown men still burst into tears – why oh why do we continue to embrace failure???

Looking at what became of Rover boils down to one simple factor. The company didn’t fail because of the famous Phoenix Four nor because of BMW. Rover failed and fell over because people simply stopped buying their cars – as simple as that and the reason for that was twofold. The cars were at best only average and badly needed updating. The killer was dying customer and industry confidence brought on partly by persistent bad news stories that filled the tabloids and TV screens.

We knock, dent and ridicule our own to the point of its disappearance and then gather in small groups to remember those good old days when we still had a manufacturing base… pathetic really

A great deal of damage has been done by the motoring press in my opinion. Sticking the knife in for the sake of sensationalism may sell a few copies off the stands but causes untold damage. The latest stories seem to revolve around the company falling into third place in the UK so far as total sales matter. Vauxhall’s response being that profit should always take priority over the total number of units sold. Only in England is where making a profit seems to be such a crime in the name of capitalism.

As a nation we never learn from our previous mistakes. We knock, dent and ridicule our own to the point of its disappearance and then gather in small groups to remember those good old days when we still had a manufacturing base… pathetic really. With BREXIT just around the corner things are going to change even further… and quicker than you may think too. I look forward to those armchair know-it-all’s and disillusioned enthusiasts venting their spleens about British manufacturing and how it could have survived.

But that’s the problem with enthusiasts of certain brands and why they rarely make for good business people. Of course the motor trade is a wonderful place, but it’s there to build cars and hopefully make a bit of money along the way. There is a well known saying in business that goes: turnover is vanity profit is sanity – brutally sounding but straight to the point. The European arm of General Motors has been bleeding money for some years and it got to a level where it could no longer be tolerated.

the blame cannot be put solely at the door of Griffin House – Vauxhall’s UK HQ. Vauxhall and Opel have been criminally starved of capital for many years and a mend and make do approach has been taken when it came to revisions or new models

If you cannot make a penny in profit then you have no business full stop. Pumping thousands of cars into the fleet market for example may get brand recognition for sure but is there any point if some deals are a loss maker? No – Vauxhall have awoken to the smell of very strong coffee and company both rightly and publicly have stated this is no longer going to happen. So in the ideal world if VW sits in the no:3 sales spot with Vauxhall in 4th but making more profit for less units sold then I hardly think Vauxhall have failed… what say you?

In my own opinion, the blame cannot be put solely at the door of Griffin House – Vauxhall’s UK HQ. Vauxhall and Opel have been criminally starved of capital for many years and a mend and make do approach has been taken when it came to revisions or new models. The new Astra and Insignia have arrived to general acclaim and their OnStar system is utterly brilliant. Now, looking back in 20/20 hindsight, its clear that GM were putting the brand into some kind of order to make the sale of the company look attractive and ripe for sale.

grandland x
Retail sales have been a struggle owing to a lack of product in the right sectors. This has mainly been down to a lack of previous investment by General Motors. New models such as the Grandland X (above) and Crossland X aim to tap into the busy SUV market. They’ve been a bit Johnny – come – lately for Vauxhall but at least now they have a model for every market niche.

So now we have Groupe PSA as the new incumbents. Forward thinking and cash rich the firm has turned around the Peugeot brand that up until recently built dreadful cars that made me personally feel bilious. Citroen is now seeing a resurgence in popularity and flair, though just a couple of years back they were building dull and cheap cars with all the design flair of a bread bin. Even DS that was once the so-called prestige arm of Citroen stands alone and proud – a mad idea that’s oddly and slowly starting to work and make sense.

The groups head honcho Carlos Tavares seems to have some kind of Midas touch. A touch so good that the fortunes of PSA have gone from deaths door to profit within three years. He also comes with no history of closing plants down either so in my opinion the groups acquisition can only be a good thing. So far as Vauxhall is concerned, its now time to make a winner of the firm rather backing the underdog as we British always seem to do – a character flaw of our nation… that does more harm than good in the long run.

We need to see less defeatist stories, not just about Vauxhall but about any UK based company. For every bad news story about a car manufacturer more potential customers of that brand take their money elsewhere.

Nostalgia makes for no future and the current motor trade environment is more cut-throat than ever. We can either stand in a field boring each other to death about how misunderstood the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina were or stand proud about that fact we still have one of the worlds oldest automotive brands. We need to see less defeatist stories, not just about Vauxhall but about any UK based company. For every bad news story about a car manufacturer more potential customers of that brand take their money elsewhere

For sure there has been a recently announced reduction of head count at the Ellesmere Port plant where the Astra is produced. It was widely publicised as a negative in the press but what was not mentioned was that THE job losses were VOLUNTARY, EARLY RETIREMENT WITH PENSIONS or temporary staff on short term contracts. This happens in any industry be it manufacturing, leisure or retail – once again another area focused on the negative for the sake of sensationalism. I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss and extol… simply do so looking with a broader and more factual point of view.

As a nation, we have voted for political change on a scale that’s unimaginable till it kicks into effect. But if we are to prosper and float alone we desperately and quickly need a change of attitude

It makes my heart sink when reading some articles about Vauxhall. Often written by people with little or zero trade experience, they may have the skill of wordplay but they don’t realise the potential damage they are causing… or maybe they do but don’t care. My take is simple – we need to get behind our brands and show the world the talent we have in the automotive sector. Vauxhall may have some catching up to do but I reckon their future will be rosier under the new owners once everything unravels.

I asked Vauxhall to clarify and comment on their thoughts towards future business. Communications Director Denis Chick swiftly came back with the following statement that may go some way to clarifying some of the reasons for a notable drop in sales following the recent acquisition of Vauxhall by Groupe PSA:

“Vauxhall is following a strategic plan to remove the brand from unprofitable channels, such as daily rental.  In the light of the PSA takeover and the need to become profitable across the Opel Group, that plan has been stepped up into 2018.

Our clear objective is to be profitable, with a sales focus on the retail sector and true fleet.  We are also affected by the decline in B, C and D segment ‘saloon car’ sales in favour of SUVs.  From a model segment perspective we are today selling in just over 50% of the market.

With Crossland X now in the portfolio and Grandland X in the showrooms from January, we will catch up fast, in fact Grandland X will become our second best seller at retail.  With a new Corsa on the horizon and electrification opportunities soon to be available, Vauxhall is looking forward to growth.

The transition into Groupe PSA and the journey back to profitability continues to moves forward” 

Denis Chick: Communications Director Vauxhall

You don’t have to be a loyal Vauxhall fan or owner for that matter. What you do need to be is a supporter of British manufacturing, design, engineering and its workers. As a nation, we have voted for political change on a scale that’s unimaginable till it kicks into effect. But if we are to prosper and float alone we desperately and quickly need a change of attitude. Now is the time to get behind our British brands and businesses before its all too late to change anything at all.

Are you ready and prepared to play your part?

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 comments

  1. The way we view our industries would get you shot in other countries in Europe.

    I have lost three or four sales thanks to crappy digs at my brand especially on social media.

  2. A brave and nicely put tome in favour of UK PLC

    I fear it’s a ship that set sail many years ago though I would like to be shown otherwise.

  3. “What you do need to be is a supporter of British manufacturing, design, engineering and its workers.”

    There is not much if anything of the above statement that could be closely associated with new Grandland X and Crossland X.

    Take off your rose coloured spectacles and wake up and smell the coffee.

  4. Vauxhall is dead in the water.

    1) sales down 20% vs last year
    2) owned by a French car maker who is looking to make €3 billion pounds in cost cutd
    3) mass redundancy notices issued at Ellesmere Port
    4) other than the Insignia, a bland range that most other manufacturers can equal or better

    Rip Vauxhall 2018/9

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