Famous 90’s commercial for Vauxhall cars. ‘Once Bitten Forever Smitten’.
Vauxhall Motors Limited is a British automobile company, owned by General Motors. Most current Vauxhall models are right-hand drive derivatives of GM’s German Opel marque; however, production of left-hand drive vehicles also takes place for export to other parts of Europe, and certain marginal markets. There are also several performance vehicles coming from Opel Performance Center (OPC) and Holden/Holden Special Vehicles in Australia. Vauxhall is headquartered in the Griffin House in Luton, United Kingdom.
In early 2009, the future of Opel was thrown into uncertainty as the global financial crisis drove GM towards bankruptcy. New GM Europe (Vauxhall plus Opel, minus Saab), is presently controlled by a trustee, with a controlling board made up of representatives from GM, employees and the German Government; the company was subject to a bidding process.
On 10 September 2009, it was announced that Magna, a Canadian car part manufacturer, and Sberbank, a Russian company, would buy a majority stake (55%) in its European Opel/Vauxhall operations. GM would have owned 35% of Opel; while Opel employees would have owned 10%. The agreement would have kept Opel/Vauxhall a fully integrated part of GM’s global product development organisation, allowing all parties to benefit from the exchange of technology and engineering resources. On 3 November 2009, the GM board called off the Magna deal, after coming to the conclusion that Opel and Vauxhall Motors are crucial to GM’s global strategy.
Alexander Wilson founded the company in the Dusian Road, Vauxhall, London in 1857. Originally named Alex Wilson and Company, then Vauxhall Iron Works, the company built pumps and marine engines. In 1903, the company built its first car, a five-horsepower model steered using a tiller, with two forward gears and no reverse gear. This led to a better design which was made available for sale.
To expand, the company moved the majority of its production to Luton in 1905. The company continued to trade under the name Vauxhall Iron Works until 1907, when the modern name of Vauxhall Motors was adopted. The company was characterised by its sporting models, but after World War I the company’s designs were more austere.
Second World War
During World War II, car production at Luton was suspended to allow Vauxhall to work on the new Churchill tank, taking it from specification to production in less than a year, and assembled there (as well as at other sites). Over 5,600 Churchill tanks were built. Luton also produced lorries for the war effort (250,000), the Bedford designs being common in British use.
Post World War II
After the war, car production resumed, but models were designed as a more mass-market product leading to expansion of the company. A manufacturing plant at Ellesmere Port was built in 1960. During the 1960s, Vauxhall acquired a reputation for making rust-prone models, though in this respect, most manufacturers were equally bad. The corrosion protection built into models was tightened up significantly, but the reputation dogged the company until the early 1980s.
By the late 1960s, the company was achieving five-figure sales on its most popular models, including the entry-level Viva and larger Victor.
1970s and 1980s
Vauxhall’s fortunes improved during the 1970s, with an updated version of the Viva continuing to sell in huge volumes.
By 1973, however, the Victor was losing sales in a market that was becoming increasingly dominated by the Ford Cortina. The Viva was still among the most popular cars in Britain, as a facelift in 1970 stopped the design from becoming too outdated. But this wasn’t enough to keep Vauxhall from being well behind market leaders Ford and British Leyland in the sales charts, and most of its range was struggling even to keep pace with Chrysler UK (formerly the Rootes Group). Vauxhall’s sales began to increase in 1975, with the launch of two important new models – the Chevette, a small three-door hatchback that was the first car of its kind to be built in Britain, the Chevette carrying the name Opel Kadett in Europe, and Chevrolet Chevette in the US market; and the Cavalier (Opel Ascona elsewhere), a stylish four-door saloon designed to compete head-to-head with the all-conquering Ford Cortina. By the end of the 1970s, Vauxhall had boosted its market share substantially, and was fast closing in on Ford and British Leyland.
By 1979, Vauxhall had increased its market share substantially, but was still some way behind Ford and British Leyland, even though it had overtaken Talbot (the successor organisation to Rootes and Chrysler UK). At the end of 1979, Vauxhall moved into the modern family hatchback market with its Astra, (Opel Kadett elsewhere) range that replaced the ageing Viva and Chevette models. The Astra quickly became popular with buyers, but the 1981 Mk2 Cavalier – the first Vauxhall of this size to offer front-wheel drive and a hatchback bodystyle – was the car that really boosted Vauxhall’s fortunes. The 1983 Nova (Opel Corsa elsewhere) supermini, an addition to the Vauxhall line up, completed Vauxhall’s regeneration, and it soon overtook Austin Rover (formerly British Leyland) as Britain’s second most popular carmaker. The Astra further strengthened its position in the market with an all-new 1984 model that featured an aerodynamic design reminiscent of Ford’s larger Sierra.
Vauxhall’s most important model of the 1980s was the 1981 Mk2 Cavalier, which made the transition from rear-wheel drive saloon to front-wheel drive hatchback (though there was still a saloon version available, complemented in 1983 with an estate). For much of its life, it was Britain’s most popular large family car, vying with the Ford Sierra for top place. The Cavalier was relaunched in 1988, an all-new format which won praise for its sleek looks and much-improved resistance to rust.
Vauxhall refused to rest on its laurels after the turnaround of the early to mid 1980s, and before the decade was over there was more to come. The the range was the Senator (Opel Omega elsewhere). The Cavalier (Mk3) entered its third generation in 1988 – with an all-new sleek design that further enhanced its popularity. The Calibra coupé followed in 1989, which was officially the most aerodynamic production car in the world on its launch. Falling between the Cavalier and Senator, was the Carlton (Opel Rekord elsewhere) – relaunched in 1986, and was voted European Car of the Year, a large four-door family saloon. There were two sports versions of the Carlton, the 3000 GSi, and the Lotus Carlton – aimed a family minded executives. The later being considered as the fastest four-door production car, at the time. Most importantly, the latest generation of Vauxhall models had eradicated the image of rusting cars that for so long had put potential buyers off the Vauxhall brand.
By 1989, Vauxhall was on something like equal terms with the Rover Group as Britain’s second most popular car brand behind Ford.
In 1993, things were still looking strong for Vauxhall. The Cavalier was firmly re-established as Britain’s most popular large family car, with more than 130,000 sales, while the third generation Astra (relaunched in 1991) with 100,000 sales was continuing to narrow the gap between itself and the best-selling Ford Escort. The Astra was now joined by the Belmont – a four-door booted version of the Astra. This continued for some time until being renamed Astra, presumably to provide combined sales/registration figures. The decade-old Nova was axed in 1993, in favour of the all-new Corsa, adopting the European naming of the model; its distinctive styling and practical interior began attracting more sales than its predecessor had done.
In 1994, GM ceased production of Bedford Vehicles, which had been Vauxhall’s commercial vehicle arm, making successful vans, trucks and lorries since the 1930s. Van production continued at Luton, now under the Vauxhall name.
The Cavalier nameplate was axed in 1995 after 20 years, and Vauxhall adopted the Vectra nameplate for its successor, completing a policy by General Motors that aligned and identically badged all Vauxhall and Opel models. Vectra received disappointing feedback from the motoring public, and several well-known journalists, most notably Jeremy Clarkson. Yet it was still hugely popular, and for a while after the 1999 facelift, it was actually more popular than Ford’s highly-acclaimed Mondeo. The Astra entered its fourth generation in 1998, and offered levels of build quality and handling that bettered all of its predecessors.
It was around this time that Vauxhall was being heavily criticised in several high profile car surveys. In 1998, a Top Gear customer satisfaction survey condemned the Vauxhall Vectra as the least satisfying car to own in Britain. A year later, as a brand Vauxhall was slated as the least satisfying make of car by the same magazine’s customer satisfaction survey. Its model range came in for heavy criticism for breakdowns, build quality problems, and many other maladies – which meant that quality did not reflect sales success. Despite this, Vauxhall was competing strongly in the sales charts, and by 1999, was closer to Ford in terms of sales figures than it had been in years.
Info gleaned from Wikipedia