Monday, 23 June 2014

Vauxhall overturns bleak prospects

Five years ago, the future looked bleak for Vauxhall's light commercial vehicle plant in Luton.

Now the future is guaranteed for 10 years when the next generation model goes into production there at the end of the three-week August shut-down.

So soon after the closure of the car factory next door, there were concerns that the van facility would suffer a similar fate.

Vauxhall's parent General Motors (GM) was plunged into Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of the economic downturn; its European operations were in disarray.

This led to issues with Renault, its medium van joint venture partner when it looked as though giant Canadian supplier Magna was going to buy GM's European business.

In the end, GM came through and the future of the Luton plant is now guaranteed for the next 10 years after it won the business to continue assembly of the Vivaro medium van.

Opel and Vauxhall-badged vehicles will be produced on long and short-wheelbase form and equipped with a French-built 1.6-litre diesel engine in single or twin turbo form and in four power configurations.

Vivaro will share pressings with the Renault plant at Sandouville near Le Havre (what Vauxhall calls “Vivaro’s sister plant”) in France. This plant will also supply the UK with high roof versions of the new Vivaro. Renault builds the Trafic in Saandouville.

The decision to award Luton the contract has also been good news for UK suppliers as Vauxhall has increased its domestic parts sourcing from 25 per cent to 40 per cent for the new model including a number of high value components such as seats, fuel tanks, bumpers, ladder frame and a number of sheet metal parts.

Vivaro production has kept the Luton plant going for the past 12 years. Following a joint venture with Isuzu of Japan which produced the Frontera 4x4, Vauxhall has been making LCVs with current partner Renault.

Plant director Mike Wright said: "Winning the business for the new model was absolutely vital for Vauxhall and Luton - along with the airport next door we are the biggest employers in the area.”

"We could easily have lost the new model to Sandouville. This is a huge factory and could certainly cope with the volume to supply all over Europe,” he added.

"We were able to show a good balance between cost and quality and we have great labour relations. The unions have proved to be very flexible and in the 16 years I have been here we have not had a single walk-out. We have been able to negotiate our way around any issues," Wright claimed.

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