The shock decision to close Vauxhall's Luton car plant in Bedfordshire has raised the spectre that the famous griffin badge itself is destined for the axe.Bosses at parent company GM are planning new Vectra and Omega models within three years - exclusively revealed by Auto Express in Issues 576 and 598 respectively. But in the light of the crisis at Luton, company insiders are strongly tipping right-hand-drive models destined for Britain to bear the Opel badge.
The plan to kill off the Vauxhall name would fit with current GM policy - as part of the same global restructuring that pulled the rug from under Vauxhall, bosses in Detroit also killed off the classic Oldsmobile marque in the US. And Mike Larkin, director for London-based branding specialist Catalyst Marketing Consultancy, said that if GM did drop the Vauxhall name, it would present few if any problems for car buyers. He told us: "Research into the Vauxhall image has found car names such as Corsa and Vectra have more of an emotive pull, while the company name doesn't really mean anything, With Opel as the new name, GM could at least try and create something emotive with the brand."
The end of the griffin is likely to be the final consequence of Luton's demise after 95 years of production. Around 2,000 workers will lose their jobs when assembly lines shut in spring 2002, although a further 500 jobs will be saved as employees move to the GM-owned IBC plant next door. This factory makes the Vauxhall Vivaro/Renault Trafic van, along with the Frontera 4x4.
News of the Luton plant's closure was greeted with shock by employees, who stormed an office block to demand answers from Vauxhall chairman Nick Reilly. Union leaders condemned GM's decision as completely unnecessary.
The job losses are part of GM's plan to cut its worldwide workforce by 10 per cent. But global president and chief executive Rick Wagoner said the move was more about future planning than panic measures. "What's going on in Europe are structural decisions related to our ability to set up the company to be successfully going forward."
Industry experts have been quick to blame the demise of Luton on the Vectra's lacklustre image, falling sales and over-production - factors all denied by Vauxhall bosses. A Luton spokesman said the Astra would still be made at Ellesmere Port, adding that GM wasn't quitting the UK.
The Vauxhall catastrophe has sparked a crisis of confidence among car makers, with Peugeot now threatening to cut jobs at its Ryton plant in Coventry.
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