Five years ago, Wright guided Autocar through a tranche of £168m of investment that put the revamped Gen-3 Vivaro into production under GM ownership in conjunction with Opel and Renault, securing the Luton plant to 2025.
Now it’s all change after PSA bought Vauxhall/Opel in March 2017, with the Vivaro name switching to the design that serves as the Citroën Jumpy/ Dispatch, Peugeot Expert and Toyota ProAce Verso.
Like the outgoing Vivaro, it’s front-driven, but, being based on a platform that also supports SUVs, has refinements such as a multi-link rear axle, a more complex electrical system and a panoramic roof option for passenger versions.
Vauxhall Vivaro Life 2019 review
Switching to the new platform has required significant changes to the Luton plant layout. The bulk of the investment – £65m – has gone into a new, heavily robotised body-in-white assembly plant for the new platform.
To accommodate the new line, Vauxhall cleared out a cavernous 8000-square-feet underground car park and installed 300 new robots plus assembly jigs and mechanical handling gear capable of pushing out 24 chassis platform underbodies every hour. “With a lot of blood, sweat and tears, we’ve transformed this space and installed and commissioned a whole new chassis line in just 12 months,” said Wright.
This might just be a record for a new assembly plant body shop, the urgency of PSA to speed up the turnaround providing the impetus.
Such speed of delivery is possible since the line at Vauxhall replicates the one installed at Sevel Nord, PSA’s van plant at Valenciennes in northern France.
Luton is now part of PSA’s ‘van cluster’, led by Sevel Nord, and featuring Luton, Sevel Sud in Italy and Gliwice in Poland. Quality is benchmarked against Nord and, on our visit, Citroën and Peugeot vans are in production as a quality yardstick.
Operations at Luton have been simplified by bringing in kits of pressed body panels from Sevel Nord’s suppliers, although this has diluted local content to 22% – below the 40% that it was under GM. Vauxhall hopes to raise the local content in future.
With panels coming in from France, Luton’s ageing press shop is quiet for now. The speed of the model changeover at Luton allows insufficient time to build new body dies, which typically takes two years.