After years of being regarded as a bit of a humble backwater brand, Vauxhall could be about to become the rope in a bitter tug of war.
The cheeses at GM have traditionally seen Vauxhall as little more than a badge for right-hand drive Opels so, when the possibility of a sale of Opel to Fiat was first mooted a few weeks ago, it was assumed to be pretty much a fait accompli that Vauxhall would go with it.
GM CEO Fritz Henderson implied as much when he said: “We have no interest in expanding Vauxhall beyond the UK and never had interest in changing Vauxhall in the UK.”
But that was two weeks ago, and now the GM rhetoric has subtly shifted. Sure, GM clearly still wants to offload Opel and concentrate more on its struggle to restructure its US operation, but the General also seems to have sniffed an opportunity in Vauxhall.
Henderson said yesterday that “Vauxhall is a crucial and integral part of the business.”
Does that mean GM Europe? On the face of it you’d assume so, but that could as easily be taken to mean GM as a whole. After all, the UK is the biggest single European market for GM, but it is also GM’s fourth biggest market worldwide. And maybe GM doesn’t want to let such a big slice of the world car market go so easily.
So while Fiat will certainly be keen to get hold of Vauxhall’s UK market share, GM could be just as keen to hold on to it.
Even if GM does hold on to Vauxhall, it’s going to face serious challenges. What would stop a Fiat-owned Opel from tempting a large chunk of Vauxhall’s dealer network to simply swap the Griffin for the lightning badge? After all, the current Opel/Vauxhall range is probably as strong as it’s ever been, and dealers might be loath to stop peddling such decent-quality metal.
Then there’s the question of how to replace the current Vauxhall line-up without Opel’s help. GM’s Asian operation, GM DAT, is on fine form, and its next generation of products will be better than the current lacklustre Chevrolet-badged offerings. But the UK is a demanding marketplace, and the future GM DAT products are still an unknown quantity.
Rocky times for Vauxhall then. But it could be good for the consumer. Current Vauxhalls could live on badged as Opels, and a GM DAT-sourced Vauxhall range might prove itself more than capable creating a genuinely high-quality rival to end Ford and (Opel) Vauxhall’s Hegemony over the mainstream UK car market.