Vauxhall throughout its history has attempted place cars on the forecourts of dealers that are attractive to buyers and above all affordable. They have had serious competition in this role however, particularly from American company Ford, although British Leyland provided serious competition for many years. The first Vauxhall factory was opened by Alex Wilson, cars however were not the first items to roll off the productions line; originally it was pumps and engines that were the mainstay of Vauxhall's trade. It was not until 1903 that the first cars rolled out onto the forecourts of dealers.
While the company started out as a British owned and run operation this soon changed as in the twenties Vauxhall was bought out by American car manufacturing giant General Motors. The decision to sell affected the design and sale of the cars for generations to come, whilst also tying Vauxhall to its new European counterpart Opel. The price of the buyout was only two and a half million pounds, for this sum GM received the company lock, stock and barrel; the factories, dealers and all the assets. Unfortunately the parent company was less inclined to inspire forward thinking design and the cars were somewhat dull and boring, resembling their American and European counterparts.
While GM purchased Vauxhall in 1925 taking over production and the running of the company, it was not until four years later that this American giant decided to buy out the German company Opel. Since this time the two companies, their dealers and workers were intertwined, producing cars that were practically identical in terms of design and build. Opel cars are common all across Europe and are regarded to be GM's strongest European brand. However, the Vauxhall Company have always rejected a name change for the sake of homogenisation, fiercely clinging to their own identity as a British manufacturer. That said nearly all models produced by both companies have been almost the same, just with different names and slightly different styling. One example being the Opel Kadett, which in Britain was labelled the Astra. The latter name was seemingly more popular as the both companies have now adopted it for the most modern variant.
That said within Britain there were Opel dealers in operation, selling practically identical models to those of Vauxhall. This however changed in the late seventies and early eighties when GM made the decision to faze out the Opel dealers within the UK, the last Opel sale in the UK being in 1988. Opel cars do however continue to be sold in Ireland, as the reverse of the closure process happened in this country. Vauxhall dealers were shut or simply taken over by Opel during the eighties. The reason behind such a move was duplication and GM simply making competition for themselves. Today both companies market cars with the same names and design although the prefix naturally differs.
Another sister of both Vauxhall and Opel is Holden, predominantly operating in Australia. Once again this was once an independent company but was bought by GM in 1931. This company has a number of models designed by their European counterparts although has retained some of their independence by marketing high powered models for the racing sphere. The most recent being the Commodore, the first vehicle to be completely designed and built by the company for over thirty years. Clearly it is Holden that has managed to retain the largest amount of independence within the GM dominion.
Vauxhall has had trouble continuing its independent nature as one of the subsidiaries of GM. But being owned by such a powerful parent company has ensured their survival in a UK car industry that has experienced decline since the mid twentieth century. Today the cars on forecourts of dealers owe as much to GM as they do to the work of Alex Wilson over one hundred years ago.
Motor industry expert Thomas Pretty looks at the cars in Vauxhall dealers and their likeness to other GM owned brands.