A few of us gathered in a central London eatery last night to bid farewell to Duncan Aldred, departing CEO of Vauxhall, generally admired among the hackery for his candour, humility and straight answers to questions.
Though Aldred’s skill as a businessman is not our primary concern he obviously has it in spades: he took the top job at Vauxhall job in 2010 when sales were very much on the floor, and leaves it not quite four years later well on track for the promised mid-decade profitability, and with sales doing so well that Vauxhall now looks a realistic threat to Ford as UK market leader - without (as Aldred hastens to put it) buying market share by offering unprofitable incentives.
Over the past year or so Vauxhall has been identified to other GM Europe outposts as a home of best practice, notably for its terrific ability at turning a high percentage of leads into sales.
Perhaps Aldred’s finest hour was designing and promoting a plan (that required buy-in from Vauxhall workers and suppliers as well as as the UK government) that induced GM’s top management to award the Ellesmere Port plant a new model - and a consequently new lease of life - when it had looked a near-certainty for closure. He takes particular pleasure in Ellesmere’s reprieve, having started his Vauxhall career there as a graduate trainee.
Aldred’s new job is to run the Buick and GMC marques in the US, both of them vital to GM’s recently restored bottom line. Buick (whose products have a relationship with Vauxhall that is likely to grow) is the group’s predominant marque in its fast-expanding and very successful Chinese market, but US sales alone amount to 250,000 units, not far behind Opel-Vauxhall’s combined 280,000 on this side of the pond. GMC, a 'premium truck brand', sells around 500,000 units in the US and - because trucks are profitable and premium trucks even more so - returned nearly 40 per cent of GM group profits last year. Suddenly, what the man from Vauxhall does will greatly affect GM’s bottom line.
Aldred isn’t daunted, but neither does he minimise the task. “I’ve been studying the way Buick and GMC operate,” he says, “with a view to mixing what they do with our own best practice. And I’m finding that the way they do things is pretty damned good already..."