It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Just under two years ago, when Brit Nick Reilly announced the pain before the gain bound up in a $15 billion, five-year recovery plan for Opel and Vauxhall, the commitment was clear: "We will break even in 2011, and be in profit by 2012".
He probably couldn’t have predicted the lingering torpor of the European market back then, but even so, the plan isn’t exactly on course. Opel/Vauxhall announced a few weeks ago that it expects to lose somewhere between $1.5- and $1.8billion this year – double its losses for 2011. Break even has been put back to 2015.
Things don’t look good for a firm that fairly recently and regularly topped the UK market share chart. But I can’t help thinking that the perception of the company’s worrying condition has been made even worse this year by some disappointing products and bad strategy.
Parent company GM Europe has had three presidents in 2012, and it’s yet to announce a permanent replacement for outgoing design boss Mark Adams (the man who was supposed the take the job, David Lyon, abruptly left the company in July). The current man in overall charge, Dan Akerson, takes the opportunity to reassure the press whenever he can that Opel/Vauxhall will not be sold. I’m sure it won’t – but at some point the crisis management has to stop, and the brave new world has to begin.
A lot of hope was placed in the Vauxhall Adam supermini – a car that had the potential to start a recovery of sorts. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was after a drive. In the metal it felt ordinary, derivative – compromised by GM’s decision not to adopt the new ‘Gamma II’ platform for the car, but to recycle the existing Corsa platform. I heard a rumour that the Adam was actually designed by Magna back in 2009, during the course of the takeover bid that never quite was. That may or may not be true – but it came from a very reliable source, and it’s highly plausible.
The Vauxhall Mokka was better – but only after the debacle that was the European press launch. The suspension set-up we were all told would be final wouldn’t, as it turned out, be final after all. Final or not, it wasn’t good enough. Cue a hasty UK-market re-tuning job, which eventually produced a creditable car – but that should have happened before us hacks were given our test drives, not in such undermining circumstances afterwards.
Next year will bring the Cascada convertible, but that’s no more a car to transform a company’s fortunes than either the Adam or the Mokka is. So the question I’m left pondering is how long it’ll be until will we see a new Vauxhall that’s genuinely appealing and class-leading – and that’ll sell in big numbers?
Both Russelsheim and Luton desperately need one, but if they don’t get it sooner or later, who knows when the job cuts and factory closures will end.