Dream Cars: Vauxhall Revival
|Topics: Vauxhall, General Motors
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.
November 13, 2012
After years of plodding along as rebranded GM cars, Vauxhall needs a new life. As you may have read before, I'm a big fan of General Motors having MORE brands instead of fewer, to cater to all the varieties of customers that exist.
One particular consumer being underserved these days is the consumer looking for a British sports car. Jaguar has gone from classic to just plain old, and there isn't any other company making cars like it on the short side of $100,000. There is room for a competitor to take over the segment.
General Motors already has traditions, name recognition, and British motorsport history in the Vauxhall name. Yes, there was motorsport history there before they became known for compact diesel-powered police cars and rebadged Opels.
The trend in high-end luxury motoring seems to be one of parts-bin drivetrains and coachbuilt interiors. America, and General Motors in particular, has no shortage of powerful engines in a variety of chassis designs that lack class and style in their interiors and bodywork. Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Corvette, the late Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice, the Chevrolet SS. Sure, as I also mentioned before, Buick is doing great work with converting the smaller Cruze into a luxury compact car, but what about the other end of the spectrum? The customers that want rear wheel drive, power, and have the money to pay for it? Sure, Cadillac is building great cars again that can slide sideways around a corner, but the appeal is of course limited considering their styling. I truly do believe that taking risks and creating love-it-or-hate-it styling is the best way to differentiate a brand from the bland competitors, but what about those that hate it? What about wrapping all that technology and performance in a different package for a different group of buyers?
My idea is to take General Motors chassis and drivetrains, ship them to a small factory in England, and coachbuild classically styled British sports cars out of them. This is not all that different from how Rolls Royce builds their cars today, where bodies and interiors are painstakingly hand crafted in England by people who can be more accurately described as artisans than factory workers before being mated to a German-designed BMW drivetrain.
To make a truly British company creating uniquely British cars would be accomplished by a British headquarters for Vauxhall, employing British automobile designers and using a British advertising agency employing British spokespersons to help create the image of the company (have I said British enough yet?). The American component of the company would provide the basic chassis, tested and true from existing American designs, and the assistance of their research & development departments for engineering assistance, and then let the Brits build their cars.
They could even have a fairly extensive lineup. Solstice chassis would make a wonderful sub-$35,000 sports car, a little more expensive than the cars it was based on but perhaps a little more mass-produced as an entry into the brand. A Camaro-based sports car with four seats, upgraded suspension, and handbuilt interior would be excellent competition for the Jagaur XK series. The Corvette is into Ferrari GT territory for performance but it could also be turned into something that would rival even Aston Martin for class and style, and Chevrolet would remain the performance leader (some people find that to be important for some reason) as the extra weight of a plush interior would add a few pounds. Cadillac's ATS and CTS could be the basis for luxury performance sedans that would surpass by far anything Ford ever did with Jaguar-izing their sedans.
I'm not a big fan of alphanumeric designations for names, and on the side of "real" car names place names have always held a lot of popularity, especially in Chevrolet (Malibu, Monte Carlo, Tahoe, etc.) Britain is full of historic race tracks whose names evoke classic sports car racing in British Green cars. Silverstone is the home of many Formula 1 teams, and thus should be affixed to the top performer - the Corvette based car. Brooklands is another great name, but one that has been already taken by Bentley. There is Goodwood, Brands Hatch, Rockingham (yes, NASCAR fans, there is a Rockingham race track in England!), and Mallory Park for the sports cars. The sedans could be named for names that are recognizably classic English place names that would hopefully evoke a sense of old-world luxury, such as Birmingham, Essex, Thames, Cornwall, Buckingham, Edinburgh, and so on and so forth.
As with the Jaguar of old, sheer demographics dictate that they will probably sell more in the United States than in Great Britain. For American advertising I would remind Americans that the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang fighter plane was an American design that didn't work so well until it was powered by Britain's Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Perhaps Vauxhall could advertise with a theme of "returning the favor," timeless British style powered by a new generation of American muscle.
Racing the cars for advertising shouldn't be a very difficult proposition, either, as the Corvette and Camaro are campaigned heavily by Chevrolet in racing series where turning the existing engineering into Vauxhalls would be a matter of body panels. That would put Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona within easy reach, and to differentiate between the American team that favors American drivers the British Vauxhall team would of course favor British drivers, creating enough separation between the teams for a meaningful difference to exist and justify both teams competing against each other.
And that small Buick luxury car I mentioned before? Sure, the cost and performance might not make it the best seller, but if the ATS isn't small enough a Vauxhall sedan based on a Chevrolet Cruze would be a route for Vauxhall to gain entry back into the BTCC, somewhere it almost MUST go if it were to win the hearts of British motoring enthusiasts.
Speaking of racing, and having mentioned Silverstone, I would also make a point to the type of buyer who is not a fan of the overly harsh suspensions that come out of Nurburgring testing (James May, I'm looking in your general direction...) by not taking them to Germany but keeping them on the home soil of Silverstone for running lap times. Indeed, advertising that they have been track tested at Silverstone has a benefit, as it has its own Formula 1 history to draw from as home of one of the most prestigious events on the F1 schedule: the British Grand Prix.
Of course there is a market for this, as Jaguar has proved with their cars year after year, as well as the spending of the Anglophile automotive community that still loves anything with an MG logo on it and bleeds dark green (a Vauxhall victory at Le Mans or Daytona might be worth the investment just on selling posters and models!). Yeah, maybe not enough to carry an industrial-park building sized independent company with no other sources of income, but as a division of General Motors with the full engineering and logistical backing of the world's largest automaker as well as access to their extensive international network of dealerships and marketing resources, the bar for breaking even is set so much lower.
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