Karl-Thomas Neumann, Vauxhall-Opel chairman, talks about GM’s fightback, joint ventures and his aims in the UK
Julian Rendell
26 March 2014

Karl-Thomas Neumann has been chairman of Vauxhall-Opel for just over a year. In that time, parent company GM has firmed up its European strategy, pulled Chevrolet out of Europe and started to co-develop new models with PSA Peugeot-Citroën.

An electrical engineer by training, Neumann joined GM from Volkswagen, where he was running the group’s interests in China. Previously, he was VW’s head of electronics R&D.

GM has been recovering from the darks days of chapter 11 bankruptcy protection  in 2009. How is the European recovery going?

“We said we will break even in the middle of the decade, the latest by 2016. Last year we improved our result by 50 per cent. For the first time for 14 years, we kept market share.”

Can you update us on your joint ventures with PSA?

“Last year we sorted a number of things out and I met [new PSA boss] Carlos Tavares on his first day, shook his hand and said this is how we are progressing. Number one is logistics; this is the simplest. Last year we already saved around €60 million each. Second is purchasing and we now have the second-largest purchasing volume in Europe.”

What about shared car projects?

“We’re going to build three cars together: Meriva, Zafira and next-gen Combo van. We will do this on a PSA platform with PSA engines. We will make sure it is an Opel using some of our modules but their platform.”

Why share platforms when GM has huge global volume?

“Vauxhall-Opel is the third-biggest car company in Europe — we sell one million cars a year — but this is not enough when you have the spectrum we do.”

You announced a project to co-develop a hatchback with PSA. Is that cancelled?

“We did have an agreement to build a next-generation small car. But it was a wrong decision, because our car would have left the GM platform programme. I prefer to use a GM platform for the small car because I can use our engines and technologies.”


Will there be more shared models/platforms with PSA?

“The three I mentioned and that’s it for the moment. There may be more in a few years.”


Vauxhall will challenge for number one spot in the UK. What progress is it making?

“Just to define it: we meant number one in retail and number one in true fleet. 
What we won’t do is chase number one for the pure sake 
of the number one spot and throw money at daily rental. Vauxhall will be run to get profitable business.” 
[New Vauxhall boss Tim Tozer contributed to this answer.]

Chevrolet is pulling out of Europe. Where does that place Vauxhall-Opel?

"This decision gives Opel and Vauxhall full confidence from Detroit, so all the burden is on our shoulders now. GM can only be successful as a leading car maker in the world if we have a strong stake in Europe, so we can’t give up Europe.”


What went wrong for Chevrolet in Europe?

“The budget versus premium brand pitch didn’t work, because we had increasingly similar cars based on the same global modular architectures.” 

Our Verdict

Vauxhall Corsa

The Vauxhall Corsa is very refined, stylish and practical. Engines are not so good

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Comments
19

26 March 2014
Perhaps Mr Neumann's "plan for recovery" should also include the final consignment to the history books of the "Vauxhall" brand, which began in the 80s (it's only retained now in the UK and its dependencies anyway) ... "Opel" is the recognised brand across Europe ...

289

26 March 2014
...the problem is Suzuki, that the Opel name means even less than the Vauxhall name in the UK, so this idea wont fly either.
Don't be fooled by the monthly 'Top UK selling models' either. Vauxhall, like Ford, buy this position with pre-reg vehicles.
Vauxhall are between a rock and a hard place, in trying to break out of the pigeonhole they have tailored themselves into over past history.....'Rep mobile'. Ford have partly managed to break free from this but given that Vauxhall product has improved immeasurably over recent years, and is arguably even better design than Ford, they still aren't getting the recognition they deserve.
This isn't helped when the majority of employees now 'take the money' instead of the company car choice so that they can drive the car of 'their' choice....the premium brands now have headline lease rates of " £299 - £350 per month, so why would you choose a brand name with 'rep mobile' connotations?
I also believe that some of Vauxhalls pricing has been questionable lately in their attempts to become profitable...I could barely believe the price of the Corsa VXR in Autocar last week. That car will definitely cost out at more money per month than an S1 Audi Quattro!!
I am firmly in the camp of believers that Chevrolet bargain pricing was the answer for GME...that door has been firmly closed now as it was seen to be hurting the main brand. Now all the eggs are firmly in just the one basket. Its going to take some really good decisions to survive.

26 March 2014
So it turns out that Vauxhall/Opel and, by implication, Buick, aren't premium brands after all.

26 March 2014
I believe that GB is the fourth largest market for GM worldwide and Vauxhall is the second highest seller in this country. Why would they want to change the name? Surely it makes more sense to ditch Opel which is unpopular in many of its markets? ;-)) Why should we give up yet another British name like we've done countless times over the years?

Vauxhall started in the 80's? Which history book are you reading???

They aren't a premium brand at the moment; they're trying to address that.

26 March 2014
I had a very pleasant experience with my Vauxhall dealer when I had a Corsa bought new in 2002. The company had three dealerships in Fife and, despite the fact that they've lost new car sales, they still operate a service centre and sell used cars. I'm thinking about an Adam, so when I decide to change I'm giving them the chance to supply the car I want. By comparison the Ford dealership I use at the moment is very poor. Apparently I've to flag up anything I want checked. This must mean that the box-ticking exercise that constitutes a service record means nothing. Unless I ask them to check the car, and specify exactly what I have concerns about, the 6 year perforation warranty is invalidated. By comparison my Corsa was checked as a matter of course. Any car maker is only as good as their dealerships and, from personal experience, Vauxhall have it right.

26 March 2014
Vauxhalls are bought because they're recognised as a home-grown brand, regardless of where the car was designed and made, while many buyers are totally unaware of this. I bet people who buy a Corsa or Insignia have no idea they're made in Spain and Germany respectively, so it'd be a huge mistake for GM to get rid of the Vauxhall brand in the UK in favour of Opel. And when Opel and Vauxhall were sold side by side until the early to mid 80s in the UK, Opel's identical cars hardly registered with prospective buyers.

The problem I see with GM is their management and marketing of all their brands. They have 2 distinct global ranges, one designed by Opel and the other other by Chevrolet. Apart from being sold as an Opel or Chevrolet, their cars are also sold under GM's other brands such as Vauxhall, Holden and Buick. Basically, Vauxhall, Holden and Buick have no identitiy any more, they're nothing more than badges. What GM needs to do is introduce brand and national identity in to its cars and stop trying to make one brand a global one in a particular marketing bracket, like trying to make Chevrolet their global budget brand (Holden in Australia but not marketed as a budget brand), Cadillac their global luxury brand and Opel their global mainstream brand (represented by Vauxhall in the UK and Buick in North America and China). Many cars are bought on their identity and brand origin so lets see Vauxhall, Opel, Buick and Holden become distinct in their looks and feel, while these brands would then have some success in being sold worldwide for what they are, not what they represent.

And if, for example, the VW Group can make a success of their various brands by basing cars on the same platforms, why couldn't GM with Chevrolet in Europe? I never confused a Cruze with the mechanically identical Astra or a Corsa with an Aveo. If Chevrolet was marketed properly in Europe, it'd have done ok.

26 March 2014
God some people are stupid, Vauxhall started in the 80's, and you feel you can comment on motoring and you don't even know that Vauxhall is over 110 years old. THERE is nothing wrong in Vauxhall as a brand, it has history and some great cars, even the cars built today are some of the best. THEY are market leaders in a large number of niches, they continue to have a number of best sellers in the UK, NO other manufacturer offers ZERO interest over a term to suit the buyer and with some nice discounts too.THEY have even reduced pricing across a number of models.Perhaps those that know nothing should not bother posting on these forums until they actually know what they are talking about.

26 March 2014
jonboy4969 wrote:

God some people are stupid, Vauxhall started in the 80's, and you feel you can comment on motoring and you don't even know that Vauxhall is over 110 years old. THERE is nothing wrong in Vauxhall as a brand, it has history and some great cars, even the cars built today are some of the best. THEY are market leaders in a large number of niches, they continue to have a number of best sellers in the UK, NO other manufacturer offers ZERO interest over a term to suit the buyer and with some nice discounts too.THEY have even reduced pricing across a number of models.Perhaps those that know nothing should not bother posting on these forums until they actually know what they are talking about.

You come across as someone who is always angry jonboy4969. Granted, not all people know everything about cars and sometimes they get some facts wrong, but the way your comments come across suggest that you're the fountain of knowledge on all things motoring, what you say is gospel and you're never wrong and that everyone else knows absolutely nothing (even if their comments are based on fact). By the way, the Agila and Corsa are way off the pace, while the Astra, Zafira, Adam, Antara and Insignia lag behind so many rivals. Only the Grand Zafira and Mokka can be considered competitive. But then, as you say "even the cars built today are some of the best" so whom am I, or anyone else, to argue.

26 March 2014
how can you say the Insignia lags behind? it has some of the most fuel efficient engines in its class and has beat its competitors in many a group test including the Mondeo. its only the magazines that are anti Vauxhall and Pro Ford is where it beats it. Plus its about time people made up their own judgement on a car instead of taking someone elses word for it. If you havent driven a particular car and judge it by someone else its about time you just shut up. this is aimed at no one in particular but just a general statement.

26 March 2014
VX220EDDIE wrote:

how can you say the Insignia lags behind? it has some of the most fuel efficient engines in its class and has beat its competitors in many a group test including the Mondeo. its only the magazines that are anti Vauxhall and Pro Ford is where it beats it. Plus its about time people made up their own judgement on a car instead of taking someone elses word for it. If you havent driven a particular car and judge it by someone else its about time you just shut up. this is aimed at no one in particular but just a general statement.

The Insignia may have fuel efficient engines, but that doesn't mean they're good engines (I'm not saying they aren't), while there are other factors to an engine too, like refinement, power, torque, power delivery. But as a complete car the Insignia trails many competitors in many comparisons in many magazines, such as the Mondeo, A4, 3-Series, C-Class, Passat, Mazda 6, i40, 508 for example. It's not a case of being pro-Ford or anti-Vauxhall, it's a case of judging a car on its own merits and trying to be subjective. The Mondeo is rated because it is an excellent car, like many Ford products and while there are many cars that are worse than Vauxhalls, they're not exactly trailblazers. Remember, for example, the current Focus turned out to be an average car when launched after its 2 excellent predcessors while the Vauxhall Mokka is highly rated. Yes, a car should be driven before being bought and someone may prefer features in a car which may otherwise have been marked down by a journalist, but magazines like Autocar are there to provide a balanced judgmement and advise what they feel are the best and worst cars which is often a factor in people's decision making process. If people prefer not to rely on magazine reviews then, frankly, don't buy or read them, and don't listen to other people's views or experiences either.

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