Vauxhall Motors is a British automobile company. It is a subsidiary of General Motors Corporation (GM), and is part of GM Europe. Most current Vauxhall models are right-hand drive derivatives of GM's Opel brand. There are also several performance vehicles coming from Opel Performance Center (OPC), Holden/Holden Special Vehicles in Australia and Lotus Cars of Norfolk, England.
To expand, the company moved the majority of its production to Luton in 1905. The company continued to trade under the name Vauxhall Iron Works until 1907, when the modern name of Vauxhall Motors was adopted. The company was characterised by its sporting models, but after World War I, designed more austere models.
During World War II, car production was suspended to allow Vauxhall to work on the Churchill tank, which was designed at Luton in less than a year, and assembled there (as well as at other sites). Over 5,600 Churchill tanks were built.
By 1973, however, the Victor was losing sales in a market that was becoming increasingly dominated by the hugely popular Ford Cortina. The Viva was still among the most popular cars in Britain, as a facelift in 1970 stopped the design from becoming too outdated. But this wasn't enough to keep Vauxhall from being well behind market leaders Ford and British Leyland in the sales charts, and most of its range was struggling even to keep pace with Chrysler UK (formerly the Rootes Group). Vauxhall's sales began to increase in 1975 with the launch of two important new models - the Chevette, a small three-door hatchback that was the first car of its kind to be built in Britain and the Cavalier, a stylish four-door saloon designed to compete head-to-head with the all-conquering Ford Cortina. By the end of the 1970s, Vauxhall had boosted its market share substantially and was fast closing in on Ford and British Leyland.
At the end of 1979, Vauxhall moved into the modern family hatchback market with its Astra range that replaced the ageing Viva. The Astra quickly became popular with buyers, but the 1981 Mk2 Cavalier - the first Vauxhall of this size to offer front-wheel drive and a hatchback bodystyle - was the car that really boosted Vauxhall's fortunes. The 1983 Nova supermini (replacement for the Chevette) completed Vauxhall's regeneration, and it soon overtook Austin Rover as Britain's second most popular carmaker. The Astra further strengthened its position in the market with an all-new 1984 model that featured an aerodynamic design reminiscent of Ford's larger Sierra. By 1979, Vauxhall had increased its market share substantially, but was still some way behind Ford and British Leyland, even though it had overtaken Talbot (the successor organisation to Rootes and Chrysler UK).
Vauxhall's most important model of the 1980s was the 1981 Mk2 Cavalier, which made the transition from rear-wheel drive saloon to front-wheel drive hatchback (though there was still a saloon version available, complemented in 1983 with an estate). For much of its life it was Britain's most popular large family car, vying with the Ford Sierra for top place. The Cavalier was relaunched in 1988, an all-new format which won praise for its sleek looks and much-improved resistance to rust.
Vauxhall refused to rest on its laurels after the turnaround of the early to mid 1980s, and before the decade was over there was more to come. The range-topping Carlton (Opel Omega elsewhere) relaunched in 1986 and was voted European Car of the Year, and the Cavalier (Mk3) entered its third generation in 1988 with an all-new sleek design that further enhanced its popularity. The Calibra coupé followed in 1989, which was officially the most aerodynamic production car in the world on its launch. Most importantly, the latest generation of Vauxhall models had eradicated the image of rusting cars that for so long had put potential buyers off the Vauxhall brand.
In 1994 GM ceased production of Bedford vehicles, which had been Vauxhall's commercial vehicle arm, making successful vans, trucks and lorries since the 1930s. Van production continued at Luton, now under the Vauxhall name.
The Cavalier nameplate was axed in 1995 after 20 years and Vauxhall adopted the Vectra nameplate for its successor, completing a policy by General Motors that aligned and identically badged all Vauxhall and Opel models. Vectra received disappointing feedback from the motoring public and several well-known journalists, most notably Jeremy Clarkson. Yet it was still hugely popular, and for a while after the 1999 facelift it was actually more popular that Ford's highly-acclaimed Mondeo. The Astra entered its fourth generation in 1998, and offered levels of build quality and handling that bettered all of its predecessors. The 1999 Astra-based Zafira compact MPV set new standards for practicality, and achieved sales volumes that were previously unimaginable for MPVs.
It was around this time that Vauxhall was being heavily criticised in several high profile car surveys. In 1998, a Top Gear customer satisfaction survey condemned the Vauxhall Vectra as the least satisfying car to own in Britain. A year later, as a brand Vauxhall was slated as the least satisfying make of car by the same magazine's customer satisfaction survey. Its model range came in for heavy criticism for breakdowns, build quality problems and many other maladies which meant that quality did not reflect sales success. Despite this, Vauxhall was competing strongly in the sales charts and by 1999 was closer to Ford in terms of sales figures than it had been in years.
2002 was one of the best years ever for Vauxhall sales in the UK. The updated Corsa (launched in 2000) was Britain's second most popular new car, and gave the marque top spot in the British supermini car sales charts for the very first time. The Astra was Britain's third best selling car that year, while the Vectra and the Zafira (a Compact MPV launched in 1999) lurked just outside the top ten with relatively strong sales.
The Vectra entered its second generation in 2002 and was further improved over earlier Vectras, but was still hardly a class-leader and now had to be content with lower sales due to a fall in popularity of D-sector cars; although a facelift in 2005 sparked a rise in sales.
Perhaps the most important Vauxhall product of the 2000s so far is the fifth generation Astra, launched in early 2004 and praised by the motoring press for its dramatic styling which was a world of difference from the relatively bland previous Astra. It was an instant hit with British buyers and was the nation's second best selling car in 2005 and 2006, giving the all-conquering Ford Focus its strongest competitor yet. The second generation Vectra went on sale during 2002 but has not sold as strongly as its predecessor. Its successor is due in 2008 and will give Vauxhall a fresh new competitor in a sector which has shrunk considerably in Britain over the last few years.
The second generation Corsa had been Britain's most popular supermini for most of its production life, but by 2006 it had started to fall behind the best of its competitors, so an all-new model was launched. This Corsa was far better than either of the previous Corsas, and it was an instant hit with buyers.
In 2006, the second generation Zafira was Britain's 10th best selling car. It was the first time that an MPV had featured in the Top 10 best-selling cars in Britain.
This was the starting point for the "Opelisation" of Vauxhall. With the 1979 demise of the Viva, GM policy was for future Vauxhall models to be, in effect, rebadged Opels, designed and developed in Rüsselsheim, with little engineering input from Luton. In the late '70s and early '80s, GM dealers in the UK and the Republic of Ireland sold otherwise identical Opel and Vauxhall models alongside each other. This policy of duplication was phased out, beginning with the demise of Opel dealerships in the UK in 1981. The last Opel car (the Manta coupe) to be "officially" sold in Britain was withdrawn in 1988.
Similarly, the Vauxhall brand was dropped by GM in Ireland in favour of Opel in 1982, with other right hand drive markets like Malta and Cyprus soon following suit. In New Zealand, the brand was withdrawn after the demise of the Chevette. Many new Opel-badged cars have been privately imported into the UK from Ireland, and other EU countries, while many Vauxhalls have been imported second hand into the Republic.
GM Europe then began to standardise model names across both brands in the early 1990s. The Vauxhall Astra and Opel Kadett, for example, were both called Astra from 1991 onwards; the Vauxhall Cavalier and Opel Vectra were both called Vectra from 1995 etc. With the exception of the VX220, sold by Opel as the Speedster, all of Vauxhall's models now have the same names as those of Opel.
Since 1994, Vauxhall models differ from Opels in their distinctive grille featuring a "V", incorporating the Vauxhall badge. This has also been used by Holden in New Zealand, by Chevrolet in Brazil on the mkI Chevrolet Astra (mk.I Opel Astra) and on the Indian version of the Opel Astra. The "V" badging is an echo of the fluted V-shaped bonnets that have been used in some form on all Vauxhall cars since the very first. The "V" grille is not however used on the Vectra-replacing Insignia, unveiled in 2008.
A model unique to the Vauxhall range is the high performance Monaro coupe, which is sourced from and designed by Holden in Australia. Although this model is also produced in left hand drive (LHD) for markets like the U.S. (known as the Pontiac GTO) and in the Middle East and South Africa (known as the Chevrolet Lumina), the model is not currently offered by Opel in mainland Europe. Imports of this vehicle are limited to 15,000 to avoid additional safety testing. A future vehicle that Opel has not confirmed but Vauxhall has is the Holden Commodore SSV and the HSV GTS. The SSV has a GM 6.0 L98 V8 and the HSV uses the high performance GM 6.0 LS2 V8. Both are on the new GM Zeta platform which will underpin many future full-size GM vehicles. Vauxhall confirmed the import of the HSV just after the reborn Opel GT roadster was announced as not being imported into the UK. Vauxhall claim the Vauxhall Commodore and HSV will replace the Monaro and be far more aggressively styled than the HSV and have several defining Vauxhall features.
The bodywork for the Holden Camira estate was used for the Vauxhall Cavalier estate in the UK (though not for the identical Opel Ascona in the rest of Europe) - conversely the rear bodywork of the T-car Vauxhall Chevette estate and Bedford Chevanne van was used for the respective Holden Gemini versions. Vauxhall's compact car, the Viva, formed the basis of the first Holden Torana in Australia in the 1960s.
Many cars badged as Opels, even LHD models, are produced by Vauxhall for export. Vauxhall has built some Holdens for export, too, notably Vectra-As to New Zealand and Astra-Bs to both Australia and New Zealand.
On 17 May 2006, Vauxhall announced the loss of 900 jobs from Ellesmere Port's 3,000 staff. Despite already meeting efficiency targets, Vauxhall has been told to further improve productivity. Vauxhall's troubled parent GM is cutting 30,000 jobs in the United States.
The VXR range is analogous to the OPC range made by Opel Performance Center, the HSV range made by Holden and the SS range made by Latin America Chevrolet. The models include the Corsa VXR, Astra VXR, Vectra VXR, Meriva VXR, Zafira VXR, VXR8, VX220 (no longer in production), and the Australian-built Holden Monaro (also no longer in production). These vehicles are high performance machines and are ideally aimed for younger buyers. Vauxhall unveiled a new model based on the Australian Holden Maloo at the 2005 NEC motor show in Birmingham, England. It was claimed that the monstrous V8 Ute could do about which is incredibly fast for a utility vehicle. Sadly, the model never got to the showroom in the United Kingdom. The Monaro is also no longer made, but a new version (a four door saloon) is now on sale called the VXR8. The VXR8 is based on Australia's Holden HSV Clubsport R8. This car does 0-60 in 5 seconds, in similar territory to other muscle car contemporaries such as the Dodge Viper (SRT-10) and Corvette Z06 and marginally slower than Fords FG F6 Falcon. The VXR badge is a symbol of the combined technological resources of the global General Motors group and the recognised expertise of consultants Lotus and the Triple Eight Racing Team.
The griffin emblem, which is still in use, is derived from the coat of arms of Faulke de Breaute, a mercenary soldier who was granted the Manor of Luton for services to King John in the thirteenth century. By marriage, he also gained the rights to an area near London, south of the Thames. The house he built, Fulk's Hall, became known in time as Vauxhall. Vauxhall Iron Works adopted this emblem from the coat of arms to emphasise its links to the local area. When Vauxhall Iron Works moved to Luton in 1905, the griffin emblem coincidentally returned to its ancestral home.
The logo as pictured used to be square, but it is now circular, to enable it to fit in the same recess designed for the circular Opel emblem. Since the 1920s the griffin has been redesigned and released 9 times. 2008 saw the release of a revised version of the 2005 logo. Bill Parfitt, Vauxhall’s Managing Director, said, "While the new-look Griffin pays homage to our 100 year-plus manufacturing heritage in the UK, it also encapsulates Vauxhall’s fresh design philosophy, first showcased in the current Astra, and set to continue with Insignia."
1905 Vauxhall builds a factory at Luton where, from 1907, most of its vehicle production will be completed.
1930 Bedford Vehicles - the commercial vehicle arm of Vauxhall - is founded.
1960 Vauxhall builds a new factory at Ellesmere Port.
1963 Production of the Vauxhall Viva small family car commences, with the new car being aimed at the likes of the Ford Anglia and Morris Minor. The German version of the car will be sold as the Opel Kadett. The locally assembled Vauxhall Viva will be launched in Australia in May 1964.
1966 Vauxhall's Slant Four goes into production - the first production overhead cam four cylinder engine to use a rubber timing belt. Also the FD Victor is launched at the Earls Court Motor Show, considered by many to be one of Vauxhall's finest all-British styling efforts.
1970 The HC Viva is launched, which went on to become Vauxhall's best-selling car of the decade.
1973 The Vauxhall Firenza "Droopsnoot" is unveiled at the Earls Court Motor Show, introducing the public to Vauxhall's new aerodynamic look for all of its subsequent 1970s models.
1974 Vauxhall moves into the mini-car sector with the introduction of its Chevette, a rear-wheel drive range of hatchbacks, saloons and estates. It is the first hatchback Vauxhall ever made, and in Germany it will succeed the Viva-based version of the Opel Kadett.
1975 Vauxhall launches a new entrant in the large family car market in the shape of the Cavalier, an ultramodern range of rear-wheel drive saloons and a "Sporthatch" Coupe. It is a restyled version of Germany's Opel Ascona.
1979 Vauxhall Viva production ends after 16 years and the car's successor is the Astra - Vauxhall's first front-wheel drive car, which comes as a hatchback or an estate. Being identical to the German-built Opel Kadett, all Vauxhalls are now identical to Opels.
1982 Vauxhall announces the launch of the Nova supermini, which will eventually replace the Chevette. It is available as a hatchback or a saloon.
1984 The aerodynamically-styled Vauxhall Astra MK2 becomes the first Vauxhall car to be elected European Car of the Year. Sales also begin of the Senator executive saloon, an upmarket version of the Carlton that is the first Vauxhall to share its nameplate with Opels.
1985 Vauxhall launches the Belmont - a saloon version of the Astra which offers more interior space and is almost as big as a Cavalier.
1986 Vauxhall wins another "European Car of the Year" award with its all-new Vauxhall Carlton (badged Opel Omega on the continent).
1989 The Cavalier chassis spawns the Calibra coupe, which is officially the most aerodynamic production car in the world. Production also begins of the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton (Opel Lotus Omega on the continent) which at is the fastest Vauxhall ever made and also the fastest four-door of all time.
1991 The third generation Vauxhall Astra goes on sale with Opel versions adopting the Astra nameplate for the first time. The saloon version will be badged Astra rather than Belmont. The Frontera goes into production as Vauxhall's first four-wheel drive model.
1992 Vauxhall Nova production ends after 10 years and the all-new replacement adopts the European Corsa nameplate.
1997 Vauxhall announces the end of Calibra production after eight years.
1998 The fourth generation Vauxhall Astra is launched, winning plaudits for its much improved ride and handling. Its chassis spawns a seven-seater "compact MPV" - the Zafira. The Vauxhall Monterey is withdrawn from sale in the UK, though it continues to sell in the rest of Europe as an Opel.
1999 Vauxhall facelifts the Vectra to include 2,500 improvements that bolster its previously disappointing ride and handling.
2002 The all-new Vectra goes on sale, alongside a large hatchback badged as the Signum.
2003 Vauxhall Omega production ends after nine years with no direct replacement, as does the Vauxhall Frontera after 12 years.
2004 The fifth generation Vauxhall Astra goes on sale and also spawns a new version of the Zafira as well as a TwinTop Astra which doubles as a coupe and convertible.
2005 The Vauxhall Vectra gets a facelift, receiving a new front-end design in line with the current Vauxhall/Opel design phase and a new engine. 2006 The third generation Vauxhall Corsa goes on sale and narrowly misses out on the European Car of the Year award.