It may have come as a surprise to some, when, this week we learned that Vauxhall is moving on to new pastures. We have been told more than once, I am sure, that two things were always certain in life: the first being taxes and the second is change. Many would have grown up secure in the knowledge that Vauxhall was a British brand and firmly in the fold of the Republic of General Motors. Across in Europe, Opel likewise has very definitely been a German brand for as far back as we can remember, and also a GM product.
So, to hear on Monday this week that a final agreement had been struck between GM and PSA whereby both Vauxhall and Opel, and all of its associated plants and operations, would now fall under the control of the French PSA Group, was a bit of a surprise to say the least. Vauxhall… French? Is this the part where ‘change’ is one of those certainties we have to accept? I am sure the Germans are saying the same thing about their beloved Opel brand too.
To be brutally honest, GM isn’t the ‘Republic’ that it once was, where it ranked as the undisputed #1 motor manufacturer in the world. In the last couple of decades, that position has been challenged by another manufacturer, not its traditional US challenger, Ford, but by Toyota with its HQ on an island in the Pacific Ocean that is smaller in size than the state of California. The world is changing and GM as a huge organisation, has been struggling to keep up, and as a result lost its footing causing a lot of soul searching. In more recent times, the shake-up of the auto industry has seen some lesser manufacturers experimenting by getting into bed with bigger partners, Chrysler and Daimler-Benz, Ford’s Premier Automotive Group with Jaguar/Volvo/Land Rover/Aston Martin, and others. These and other similar marriages ended in divorce, as it was discovered that it wasn’t as easy as it was first thought, to simply buy up other companies.
An important issue that is seldom factored into these blissful arrangements, is that of culture. Differences in culture can of course continue to exist between parties, but if there is a willingness to make it work, then success is certainly possible. But where the buyer has the attitude that they will make the newly acquired company change to be more like themselves, then this can end unhappily. A large manufacturing group that bucks this trend is the largest in Europe, that being VAG, which has over the years acquired Porsche, Skoda, Seat, Lamborghini, Bentley, Ducati and others. One reason for this company’s continued success lies in the fact that they have worked hard to retain each manufacturer’s individual identity, while sharing components throughout the Group.
Vauxhall has over the years produced some really cracking models that have inspired success in motorsport, and Opel have likewise had some really successful models. Peugeot and Citroen have done the same, and it would be important to maintain those separate identities. There is no question that all of these brands, Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall and Opel share a certain Europe-ness with each other, with identities that are geographically based in relatively close proximity to one another. In this context, America seems to be such a long way away, and so the argument in favour of this change may not be such a wayward one. Is Australia’s Holden next on the chopping block?
The only real question is whether or not the PSA Group intends to relocate Vauxhall’s operations to the Continent, but perhaps this is more a question of when rather than if, and only time will tell us that. Unfortunately, I can’t help sensing a whiff of political interference in this deal…
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Vauxhall/supplied by Virtual Motorpix and Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale