One of GM Europe’s main aims with the Insignia project was to ‘narrow the gap’ between premium and mainstream cars.
Over the last decade, sales in the Mondeo class have slumped while cars such as the BMW 3-series and Audi A4 have, ironically, become mainstream best sellers.
Only VW has managed to avoid being forced into treating its big mainstream model as a commodity item, sold cheaply into fleets and companies.
Indeed, sales of the current Passat soared over 300,000 units, double what the old Mondeo and Vectra could manage.
But, it might be argued that a Vauxhall is a Vauxhall and an Opel an Opel and any pretentions to take on Audi and Mercedes are just that, pretentions.
Renault’s marketing guru, Brit Steven Norman, recently insisted that the recession (estimated by Citi Bank to last until late 2010) will shake out the current premium/mainstream divide.
Norman likes to talk about ‘the great premium unwind’, as buyers move away from premium pricing and premium servicing costs and back to the value proposition from increasingly sophisticated mainstream brands.
Maybe there’s something in that. On Thursday evening I picked my old housemate from Heathrow. He lives in Hong Kong, runs his own fund management company and is not predisposed to slumming it. But even he’s been hit by the recession.
I told him to watch out for a ‘big, dark grey Vauxhall’. He watched me approach, jumped into the Insignia SRi and said ‘Oh, this is very smart for a Vauxhall.’ I thought he seemed genuinely impressed.
Seems he was. Three days later he went into central London to pick up a hire car. Originally, he’d booked a VW Golf, but, to my great surprise, returned in a range-topping, leather-trimmed, Insignia SE diesel auto.
Maybe Steven Norman is right. My friend still won’t spend less than £10 on a bottle of wine, and still uses business class, recession or no recession. But he was more than happy to upgrade to the 'mainstream' Insignia.
Maybe GM really has closed the gap on the premium carmakers with this car.