Vauxhall’s fortunes seem to be on the up once more following a period during which the brand slipped off many operators’ radars and lost market share in the process.
Having been established as the longstanding number two behind Ford in the UK’s LCV market Vauxhall slipped to as low as sixth in some months last year, including the high-volume plate-change month of September.
But the brand stabilised and finished 2014 as the UK’s third biggest seller behind Volkswagen, a position it has maintained. This year sales during the first five months of the year were up 27% to 16,460.
Performance has undoubtedly been boosted by the new, Luton-built Vivaro making its mark and putting the brand back on centre stage. The previous model caused a stir due to its radical styling when it burst on to the scene in 2001 but it was starting to show its age against the competition before the replacement came along.
We were impressed enough to bestow the Medium Van of the Year Award for 2015 on the newcomer – a prize it shared with its sibling the Renault Trafic.
The new mid-sized Vauxhall is a well thought-out package with impressive diesel engines, good road manners and a high standard of equipment, its bold front grille and prominent Vauxhall badge help the model stand out from the crowd in a competitive sector. It continues to marry aesthetic appeal with functionality.
The Vivaro sports new black and chrome headlamps as well as the blade feature side design familiar from the Insignia and Astra car line-ups. Meanwhile daytime running lights are equipped with LED technology.
From a practical perspective, the Vivaro offers a 54-litre stowage space beneath the passenger seats, while the pull-down desk in the middle seat means the cabin can serve as a mobile office. It contains a compartment for a laptop and a cup holder. A load- through facility can be accessed by lifting a hatch at the bottom of the passenger seat. It offers a potential total length of 3750mm.
A pair of Renault-developed bi-turbo 1.6-litre diesel engines mean the Vivaro, together with the Trafic, sets new levels of efficiency in medium vans. The pair are up for grabs with a choice of four engines. The 1.6-litre dci 90 and dci 115 units are joined by two new twin-turbo drivetrains: the 1.6 energy dci 120 and 140 engines.
The powertrains deliver fuel economy gains of at least 5mpg across the range compared with the current single-turbo drivetrains, with the newly developed twin-turbos being the most efficient.
The 120hp bi-turbo engine is the most economical of the lot, with an official fuel economy figure of 47.9mpg. This engine, together with the 140hp version was Highly Commended in the Editor’s Choice category.
Going one better was the Wide View Mirror in the passenger sun visor - an ingenious feature that increases the driver’s angle of vision to the rear. It scooped the Innovation Award. Vauxhall calls the device “a very simple solution to a big problem”.
Steve Bryant, Vauxhall’s Head of Commercial Vehicle Brand says the Vivaro’s award-winning performance has enhanced a successful launch for the model.
“It was great news that the Vivaro was recognised in the best medium van category as well as receiving plaudits for its innovative blind spot mirror,” he says.
“The all-new Brit-built Vivaro has proved to be a very popular choice for our customers and has been our most successful commercial vehicle launch ever.
In 2014 Vauxhall unveiled its new Vivaro at the Commercial Vehicle Show in short-wheelbase, standard roof height mode. At this year’s event the manufacturer showcased the full range of the mid-sized LCV, including L2 H2 vans, a combi, the first Vivaro platform cab and a double cab.
Vauxhall has ramped up Vivaro production at its Luton plant to up to 60,000 a year and extended the facility to enable it to carry body-building and livery work in-house, following a £180m investment in the plant. With production based in the UK Vauxhall points out that customers benefit from reduced transportation costs and shorter delivery times.
Bryant says: “We’ve recently added a second shift at our Luton plant to keep up with demand as well as a conversion centre, which means we will be the only manufacturer to offer an in-house sign writing and wrap service as well as bespoke racking and conversions.”
Recent deals Vauxhall has secured for the Vivaro include a contract to supply 2500 L1H1 models to British Telecom under its preferred supplier status to BT Fleet and, in a smaller deal, the manufacturer has delivered 29 of the vans to Anglian Home Improvements.
With the introduction of its in-house facility Vauxhall has also rebranded its conversion operation.
“ What we called Core Conversions are now Factory Recognised,” says national commercial vehicle and B2B sales manager Richard Collier.
These are carried out at the Luton factory and delivered to the customer with a single invoice and a single warranty to cover the converted van.
Approved Conversions (previously called Recognised) are undertaken by a network of third party converters including VFS, Trucksmith, Ingimex, TGS and Oberainger.
Collier adds: “The average man in the street will understand the branding.”
Another partner, Bott, fitted out BT’s Vivaros with their racking.
To simplify the process for customers further, Collier says some Approved Conversions now also only require one invoice rather than two because “we pay the converter”.
So far he says five out of the brand’s 40 conversion partners have joined the One invoice programme.
Vauxhall claims the Vivaro is the number one retail (sub-25 fleets) van in the UK as well as making its mark with large fleets such as BT, British Gas and Homeserve.
The manufacturer also claims the Vivaro is outstripping growth in the market overall with fleet sales up 42% versus 26% in the first quarter and retail sales up 18% versus 12%.
“Customers like what they see in the Vivaro,” Collier says.
Vauxhall raised eyebrows in the industry in the spring when it revealed it was to terminate its partnership with Fiat Professional, which sees its Combo based on the Doblo Cargo, and build its next light van in a joint venture with PSA Peugeot Citroen. A clue that something could be afoot came when the Combo declined to take on the upgrades made to the Doblo in its March facelift but few expected such a drastic change of direction for a model that only launched in the UK three years ago.
The vehicles, which will come to market in 2018, will replace the current Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Opel/Vauxhall Combo models and will be developed on the French brands’ latest LCV architecture at the PSA plant in Vigo, Spain.
Vauxhall’s parent GM and PSA began collaborating in December 2013 and the agreement has so far produced B-segment multi-purpose passenger cars from GM’s plant in Zaragoza, Spain and C-segment crossover utility vehicles from the PSA factory in Sochaux, France.
Moving further down the weight range, Vauxhall launched the third generation of its car-derived Corsavan in March. It sold 2400 examples of the outgoing van in 2014 and is aiming to get closer this year to the 4000-odd sales notched up every year by its only direct rival, the Ford Fiesta Van.
All engines in the Corsavan are Euro6 compliant and for the next three years, under the current 6.1 regulation, the diesel drivetrains, which all come with stop/start, do not require the Adblue exhaust additive to meet the requirement. In 2018, however, when the 6.2 version takes over, the engines will require Adblue.
The new Corsavan is sportier and more stylish than its no-frills predecessor and in top Sportive trim it gets six manual gears and extra kit including air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, sports seats, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and cruise control with a speed limiter function.
Like its big brother the Vivaro, it looks set to put Vauxhall back on the map.