Ford, Vauxhall, Volkswagen: How UK’s best-selling cars rose to success and plan to stay there

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SMMT statistics revealed that Vauxhall was second when it came to best-selling cars in the UK. This is something that Vauxhall is all too aware of. 

Tim Tozer, chairman and managing director of Vauxhall Motors, had a target set for him by his predecessor. This was to overtake Ford as the UK’s number one best seller. Ford holds the top two slots for car sales in Britain with the Fiesta and Focus. Between them, the two models have racked up sales of 115,000 cars. Vauxhall’s Corsa and Astra have a combined sales of 75,000.

“You can’t underestimate Ford,” Tozer said. “It is not a great idea to try and outsell them at any cost – which we could do if we chased the daily rental market. But we can give them a run for their money.”

Indeed, while its export sales have slumped, in the UK, the cars are selling like never before. Of course, it may not be the most famous of brands, but its long history within Britain gives it a great selling point: British heritage.

Despite the fact that it’s not one of the most famous brands on the automotive market out there today, it enjoys a long history. It was founded in 1857 by Alex Wilson in order to build pumps and marine engines. After being bought by General Motors in 1925, the company started making Churchill tanks, andits foray into vehicles began.

Much like Ford, the company had a “reputation stumble”. After the war their car-making process saw a mass-market orientation, but this led to Vauxhall cutting a few quality corners. Their cars were referred to as “rust-ridden”.

One of the company’s biggest moves was a partnership with Opel in the 70s, something which churned out some of Vauxhall’s most memorable cars. But as Opel dealerships closed down in the UK soon after, Vauxhall reigned supreme.

Since then, Vauxhall has managed to reduce the gap between them and Ford with the launch of the 2004 Astra.

In 2014, Vauxhall boss Karl-Thomas Neumann suggested that Vauxhall was a British brand with a British heritage and that they wanted to “keep it that way”.

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“The brand is much better off because it is the second strongest brand in Britain, but it needs to be taken on a journey, polished up, renewed and modernised: brand is a huge focus,” he said.

Tozer claimed that the biggest task has been defining Vauxhall as a brand and building a business that is sustainable. He has even started talking to agencies about the best way to market the “Griffin” marque on the car.

According to him, Vauxhall is not a cheap brand or a premium one, it is “generalist” in that its products appeal across the spectrum. 

“It is value, but that is a term that has been hijacked in recent years and we need to get that word back because what Vauxhall can offer is great value and great engineering,” Tozer explained. “Value doesn’t necessarily mean cheap and post-economic crisis you see a shift in the way people look at purchases. For example, there are many people in the UK CD socio economic sector that now shop in places like Aldi or Lidl where they wouldn’t before – the stores were considered cheap rather than good value.”

Neumann claimed that another way he hoped Vauxhall would prove successful was in the connected market. He suggested that the reach of connectivity is still overlooked in the media: “We have said we will not wait for the European Commission to come up with legislation about the ‘e-car’, we will put it into the majority of our cars as standard and it will be available for every car.” 

Tozer pointed to Vauxhall’s small cars, the Adam, and the upcoming Corsa likely to be called Viva.

These cars play in the market in different ways. He said: “There is a lot of passion for the brand in the UK, both within and outside the business, but people don’t necessarily understand it and I don’t think GM has for a while. The brand has not been invested in, nurtured or developed and has jogged along on the ups and downs of the products.”

It is his belief that the individual nameplates are understood better than the Vauxhall brand itself. If you ask someone on the street “you will get a myriad of different answers”, he said before noting that getting a clear brand identity is a work in progress at the moment.

Read on to find out about Volkswagen.

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