Vauxhall Motors is a British car manufacturer owned by General Motors (GM) and headquartered in Luton, United Kingdom. It was founded in 1857, began manufacturing cars in 1903 and was acquired by GM in 1925. It has been the second-largest selling car brand in the UK for over two decades. The current Vauxhall range includes the Agila (city car), Corsa (supermini), Astra (small family car), Insignia (large family car), Meriva (mini MPV) and Zafira (compact MPV).
Vauxhall has major manufacturing facilities in Luton (commercial vehicles) and Ellesmere Port, UK (passenger cars). The Luton plant currently employs around 1,170 staff and has a capacity of approximately 100,000 units. The Ellesmere Port plant currently employs around 2,100 staff and has a capacity of approximately 187,000 units.
The Vauxhall product range is largely identical to that of Opel, GM's German subsidiary, and most models are principally designed in Rüsselsheim, Germany. A high proportion of Vauxhall-branded vehicles sold in the UK are produced at Opel factories in Germany, Spain and Poland, and roughly 80% of Vauxhall production is exported, most of which is sold under the Opel brand.
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.
Much of Vauxhall's success during the early years of Vauxhall Motors was due to a man called Laurence Pomeroy. Pomeroy joined Vauxhall in 1906 as an assistant draughtsman, at the age of twenty-two. In the winter of 1907/8, the chief designer F.W. Hodges took a long holiday, and in his absence the managing director Percy Kidner asked Pomeroy to design an engine for cars to be entered in the 1908 RAC and Scottish Reliability Trial, held in June of that year. The cars were so successful that Pomeroy took over from Hodges.
His first design, the Y-Type Y1, had outstanding success at the 1908 RAC and Scottish 2000 Mile Reliability Trials - showing excellent hill climbing ability with an aggregate of 37 seconds less time in the hill climbs than any other car in its class. With unparalleled speeds around the Brooklands circuit, the Vauxhall was so far ahead of all other cars of any class that the driver could relax, accomplishing the 200 miles (320 km) at an average speed of 46 mph (74 km/h), when the car was capable of 55 mph (89 km/h). The Y-Type went on to win class E of the Trial.
The Y-Type was so successful that it was decided to put the car into production as the A09 car. This spawned the legendary Vauxhall A-Type. Four distinct types of this were produced between 27 October 1908 - up to when mass production halted in 1914. One last A-Type was put together in 1920. Capable of up to 100 mph (160 km/h), the A-Type Vauxhall was one of the most acclaimed 3 litre cars of its day.
Two cars were entered in the 1910 Prince Henry Trials, and although not outright winners, performed well, and replicas were made for sale officially as the C-type - but now known as the Prince Henry.
During the First World War, Vauxhall made large numbers of the D-type, a Prince Henry chassis with de-rated engine, for use as staff cars for the British forces.
After the 1918 armistice, the D-type remained in production, along with the sporting E-type. Pomeroy left in 1919, moving to the United States, and was replaced by C.E. King. In spite of making good cars, expensive pedigree cars of the kind that had served the company well in the prosperous pre-war years were no longer in demand: the company struggled to make a consistent profit and Vauxhall looked for a major strategic partner.
In 1925, Vauxhall was bought by GM for US$2.5 million. The company's pre-war image and target market were abruptly changed - with the introduction in 1931 of the first Bedford truck, which was Chevrolet based, along with the low-cost two litre Vauxhall Cadet. The company's future chief engineer, Harold Drew, left Luton for a spell working as a draughtsman with GM's Lansing based Oldsmobile division. As the first significant post acquisition passenger car, the Cadet, initially retailing at GB£280, is generally mentioned in connection with Vauxhall's newly acquired interest and expertise in controlling production costs, but it was also noteworthy as the first British car to feature a synchromesh gearbox.
The influence of the American parent was pervasive, and together with the Ford Motor Company, Vauxhall's main competitor, led to a wave of American influenced styling in Europe that persisted through to the 1980s. Bedford Vehicles, a subsidiary constructing commercial vehicles, was established in 1930 as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 had made importing American trucks uneconomical.
The first years of the 21st century saw Vauxhall further strengthen its position in the British market, and continue to narrow the gap with Ford. The Corsa was regenerated in 2000, and offered a better-handling, better-built and better-equipped package than ever before.
2002 was one of the best years ever for Vauxhall sales in the UK. The updated Corsa (launched in 2000) was Britain's second most popular new car, and gave the marque top spot in the British supermini car sales charts for the very first time. The Astra was Britain's third best selling car that year, while the Vectra and the Zafira (a compact MPV launched in 1999) lurked just outside the top ten with relatively strong sales.
The Vectra entered its second generation in 2002 and was further improved over earlier Vectras, but was still hardly a class-leader, and now had to be content with lower sales due to a fall in popularity of D-sector cars; although a facelift in 2005 sparked a rise in sales.
Perhaps the most important Vauxhall product of the 2000s so far is the fifth generation Astra, launched in early 2004 - and praised by the motoring press for its dramatic styling, which was a world of difference from the relatively bland previous Astra. It was an instant hit with British buyers, and was the nation's second best selling car in 2005 and 2006, giving the all-conquering Ford Focus its strongest competitor yet. Many UK Police forces have also adopted the Astra as the standard patrol vehicle. The second generation Vectra went on sale during 2002, but has not sold as strongly as its predecessor. Its successor, called the Insignia premiered at the 2008 British International Motor Show at ExCeL London. It is hoped that it will give Vauxhall a fresh new competitor in a sector which has shrunk considerably in Britain over the last few years.
The second generation Corsa had been Britain's most popular supermini for most of its production life, but by 2006 it had started to fall behind the best of its competitors, so an all-new model was launched. This Corsa sold far better than either of the previous Corsas, and it was an instant hit with buyers.
In 2006, the second generation Zafira was Britain's 10th best selling car. It was the first time that an MPV had featured in the top 10 best-selling cars in Britain.
For GM's former management, the Prius came as a wake-up call, though by the time they unveiled their own petrol-electric concept car at the Detroit motor show in January 2007, it was widely agreed that they were late to the party.
The Ampera E-Rev, short for extended range electric vehicle and which is due to go on sale in the UK in 2011, is a Vauxhall with a 16 kWh, 400 lb (180 kg) lithium-ion battery pack that delivers 40 miles (64 km) of motoring and a 1.4 litre petrol engine that extends the car's range to 350 miles (560 km).
From the early 1970s onward, General Motors began to systematically merge the product lines of its Vauxhall and Opel subsidiaries, largely preferring that of the German company. By the end of the decade, most Vauxhalls were based on Opel designs. The Chevette, Cavalier and Carlton were basically restyled versions of the Kadett, Ascona and Rekord respectively, featuring a distinctive sloping front end, nicknamed the "droopsnoot", first prototyped on the HPF Firenza. The Carlton/Viceroy and Royale were simply rebadged versions of Opel's Opel Commodore C and Senator, imported from Germany, whilst the first two generations of Astra, were again - rebadged versions of the Opel Kadett D and E, before the Astra nameplate was adopted by Opel for the sixth generation Kadett platform in 1991.
This was the starting point for the "Opelisation" of Vauxhall. With the 1979 demise of the Viva, GM policy was for future Vauxhall models to be, in effect, rebadged Opels, designed and developed in Rüsselsheim, with little engineering input from Luton. In the late '70s and early '80s, GM dealers in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland sold otherwise identical Opel and Vauxhall models alongside each other. This policy of duplication was phased out, beginning with the demise of Opel dealerships in the UK in 1981. The last Opel car (the Manta coupe) to be officially sold in Britain was withdrawn in 1988.
Similarly, the Vauxhall brand was dropped by GM in the Republic of Ireland in favour of Opel in 1982, with other right hand drive markets like Malta and Cyprus soon following suit. In New Zealand, the brand was withdrawn in favour of Holden after the demise of the Chevette. Many new Opel-badged cars have been privately imported into the UK from the Republic of Ireland, and other EU countries, while many Vauxhalls have been imported second hand into the Republic. Opel badged Vauxhalls have become more common in recent years in the United Kingdom, thanks in part to the rise of independent car supermarkets sourcing and selling Irish-market Opels from Opel plants in Europe.
GM Europe then began to standardise model names across both brands in the early 1990s. The Vauxhall Astra and Opel Kadett, for example, were both called Astra from 1991 onwards; the Vauxhall Cavalier and Opel Vectra were both called Vectra from 1995 etc. With the exception of the VX220, sold by Opel as the Speedster, all of Vauxhall's models now have the same names as those of Opel.
Since 1994, Vauxhall models differ from Opels in their distinctive grille - featuring a "V", incorporating the Vauxhall badge. This has also been used by Holden in New Zealand, by Chevrolet in Brazil on the Mk1 Chevrolet Astra (Opel Astra F) and on the Indian version of the Opel Astra. The "V" badging is an echo of the fluted V-shaped bonnets that have been used in some form on all Vauxhall cars since the very first. The "V" grille is not however used on the Vectra-replacing Insignia, unveiled in 2008 and the 2009 Vauxhall Astra and the 2010 Vauxhall Meriva.
A model unique to the Vauxhall range was the high performance Monaro coupé, which was sourced from and designed by Holden in Australia. Although this model was also produced in left hand drive (LHD) for markets like the U.S. (where it was known as the Pontiac GTO) and for the Middle East and South Africa (as the Chevrolet Lumina), the model was not offered by Opel in mainland Europe. Imports of this vehicle are limited to 15,000 to avoid additional safety testing. Future vehicles that have been confirmed by Vauxhall , but not by Opel, are the Holden Commodore SSV and the HSV GTS. The SSV has a GM 6.0 L98 V8, and the GTS uses the high performance GM 6.0 LS2 V8. Both are on the new GM Zeta platform, which will underpin many future full-size GM vehicles. Vauxhall confirmed the importation of the GTS just after the reborn Opel GT roadster was announced as not being imported into the UK. Vauxhall claim the SSV and GTS will replace the Monaro, and be far more aggressively styled than the GTS, and have several defining Vauxhall features.
The bodywork for the Holden Camira estate was used for the Vauxhall Cavalier estate in the UK (though not for the identical Opel Ascona in the rest of Europe) - conversely the rear bodywork of the T-car Vauxhall Chevette estate and Bedford Chevanne van was used for the respective Holden Gemini versions. Vauxhall's compact car, the Viva, formed the basis of the first Holden Torana in Australia in the 1960s.
Many cars badged as Opels, even LHD models, are produced by Vauxhall for export. Vauxhall has built some Holdens for export, too, notably Vectra-As to New Zealand and Astra-Bs to both Australia and New Zealand.
Vauxhall announced on 12 December 2000, that car production at Luton would cease in 2002, with the final vehicle being made in March 2002 following the end of production of the Vectra B and the moving of its replacement to Ellesmere Port alongside the Astra. Manufacture of vans (sold under the Vauxhall, Opel, Renault and Nissan badges throughout Europe) continues at the IBC Vehicles plant in Luton.
On 17 May 2006, Vauxhall announced the loss of 900 jobs from Ellesmere Port's 3,000 staff. Despite already meeting efficiency targets, Vauxhall has been told to further improve productivity. Vauxhall's troubled parent GM is cutting 30,000 jobs in the United States.
On 30 May 2009, a deal was announced which will lead to the spin-off of the Opel and Vauxhall brands into a new company. On the 1st June 2009, Vauxhall Motors troubled parent company, General Motors filed for bankruptcy in a court in New York. By then the sale of Vauxhall and its sister subsidiary, Opel, was being negotiated as part of a strategy driven by the German government to ring fence the businesses from any General Motors asset liquidation.
The sale to Canadian-owned Magna International was agreed on 10 September 2009, with the approval of the German government. During the announcement regarding the sale, Magna promised to keep the Vauxhall factory at Ellesmere Port open until 2013, but could not guarantee any further production after that date. On 3 November 2009, the GM board called off the Magna deal after coming to the conclusion that Opel and Vauxhall Motors was crucial to GM's global strategy.
The VXR range is analogous to the OPC range made by Opel Performance Center, the HSV range made by Holden Special Vehicles in Australia and the SS range made by Latin America Chevrolet. The models include the Corsa VXR, Astra VXR, Insignia VXR, Meriva VXR, Zafira VXR, VXR8, VX220 (no longer in production), and the Australian-built Holden Monaro (also no longer in production). These vehicles are high performance machines, and are ideally aimed for younger buyers. Vauxhall unveiled a new model based on the Australian HSV Maloo at the 2005 National Exhibition Centre motor show in Birmingham, England. It was claimed that the monstrous V8 Ute had a top speed around 200 mph (320 km/h) - which is extremely fast for a utility vehicle. However, the model never got to the showroom in the United Kingdom. The Monaro is also no longer made, but a new version (a four door saloon) is now on sale as the VXR8. The VXR8 is based on Australia's HSV Clubsport R8. This car reaches 0-60 in 5 seconds, in similar territory to other muscle car contemporaries such as the Dodge Viper (SRT-10) and Corvette Z06 - and marginally slower than the FPV FG F6. The VXR badge is a symbol of the combined technological resources of the global General Motors group, and the recognised expertise of consultants Lotus and the Triple Eight Racing Team.