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The return of Vauxhall

Is now the time to put Vauxhall on your shopping list?

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When was the last time you put a Vauxhall on your shopping list? The trials and tribulations of the Luton-based brand have been well documented.

In terms of market size, Vauxhall had been a strong number two to Ford for decades. But last year it slipped to third place behind Volkswagen, with Mercedes-Benz now nipping at its heels.

Vauxhall’s traditional heartland was very much in the fleet market thanks to the phenomenal success of the Cavalier, which became the aspirational company car of choice for those who considered the Ford Sierra too radical.

The brand lost its mojo in the early 1990s when Ford redefined the medium-sized company and family car with the all-conquering Mondeo. The Cavalier was replaced by the unloved (and unlovable) Vectra and by the time that was superseded by the worthy Insignia, the damage had been done.

However, things are changing. In August 2017 General Motors sold the failing brand (along with its German-based Opel twin) to the PSA Group, the French owner of Peugeot, Citroën and DS. And, against all the odds, it returned to profit this year for the first time in long, long time.

So is now the time to put Vauxhall on your shopping list?

What went wrong?

Much of Vauxhall’s misfortunes in recent years have been down to a lack of buyer awareness of just how good some of its cars have been.

The brand was seen as a tad staid and lost out to emergent brands such as Hyundai and Kia, offering cheap and cheerful new cars with extended warranties. Its desirability was not helped by a succession of ill-judged marketing campaigns: remember Griff Rhys Jones in his Y-fronts or the Corsa C’mon puppets?

If you don’t remember Griff Rhys Jones in his Y-fronts, we’ve been kind enough to help you out…

It was a shame because the Astra, now in its seventh generation, has gone from strength to strength against tough competition from Ford’s market-dominating Focus and Volkswagen’s aspirational Golf.

Meanwhile, the Corsa may have helped define the original supermini sector but was eclipsed by a slew of more desirable alternatives. Also, its attempt to get down with the kids in the small car sector failed miserably with the unrefined Viva, an ancient model name not calling out to be resurrected. And the Adam city car, a Fiat 500 and Mini wannabee, but lacking a vital ingredient: coolness.

It was also late to the SUV party, although it has made up for lost time with the Mokka X now joined by the Crossland X and Grandland X.

The current generation Insignia, launched in 2017, punches above its weight in terms of quality, refinement and performance (as reported by The Car Expert in our long-term test reports) but finds itself in a declining sector where buyers tend to favour the flexibility of SUVs instead.

The recovery plan for Vauxhall

Vauxhall’s now under new management. PSA installed its own man to take charge of the business, global marketing boss Stephen Norman, an industry veteran who has previously held senior positions at Renault, Fiat and Volkswagen.

As part of his recovery programme Norman has confirmed he will slim Vauxhall’s wide car range down to just six models: the Corsa, Astra, Crossland X, Mokka X, Grandland X and Insignia.

Built in Britain

As part of its revamp under PSA, Vauxhall has started making much more noise about its British roots with an Astra campaign using the unmissable ‘True Brit’ tag-line. Other campaigns use ‘Drool Britannia’ and ‘Keeps Calm. Carries On’ for Grandland X.

Vauxhall has a rich heritage on which to draw, which should resonate more with buyers. It built its first car in 1903 and takes its name from its original location on the banks of the River Thames.

The brand is also still a major UK manufacturer with its Ellesmere Port facility in Cheshire dedicated to Astra production, while the Vivaro van is built in Luton.

Vauxhall Ellesmere Port The Car Expert

Used car initiative

Vauxhall has also taken steps to make its used car proposition more attractive to buyers.

The brand was one of the first manufacturers to launch its own approved used car scheme under the Network Q brand with the service now available from over 300 dealer forecourts across the UK and cars benefitting from inspections and warranty cover.

In a welcome boost to its customer proposition, it has just launched an online tool enabling customers to search for an approved used car and then work out the best monthly finance options offered by Vauxhall.

The tool enables customers to tailor their monthly budget ahead of viewing the car in a move which should help speed up the buying process.

New products

Vauxhall GT X Experimental Concept the Car Expert
GT X Experimental – not coming to a showroom near you anytime soon

Fundamental to Vauxhall’s revival will be the delivery of desirable new cars. It has already hinted at its future design direction with the recent unveiling of the GT X Experimental electric SUV.

Although this car will never make it into a showroom, it does reveal the new family face of future Vauxhalls with an attractive grille, apparently inspired by the eye slot of a motorbike helmet, stretching the full width of the bonnet and cleverly incorporating daytime running lights and headlights.

The first new car in the pipeline is next year’s all-new Corsa. This will be the key model for the new-look Vauxhall as it’s the brand’s biggest seller, accounting for around one in four of total sales. Also, for the first time, an electric version will be included in the line-up.

2019 will also see the debut of an all-new Mokka X, while a hybrid version of the Grandland X will be added to its SUV line-up in 2020.

From 2024 we can also expect subsequent models to share platforms with Peugeot, Citroen and DS, as Vauxhall begins to reap the cost-saving benefits of being part of PSA.

The future’s looking good, so maybe it’s time to put Vauxhall back on the shopping list.

Vauxhall under PSA - one year on

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Curtis Hutchinson
Curtis Hutchinson
Curtis Hutchinson is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and has been a senior motoring journalist for over 25 years. He has written extensively about the automotive industry as editor of both Company Car and Motor Trader where he won the coveted Newspress Business Publication of the Year Award. His work also appears in Fleet World and Fleet World International. In 2016 he was part of the founding team behind the relaunched London Motor Show.