Vauxhall – the redefining moment

01VauxhallNewBadgeNew Vauxhall boss Tim Tozer says that redefining the brand is his number one task. Not volumes. Not chasing Ford. Not trying to become more upmarket. That’s refreshing from a car company boss.

With disarming pragmatism he says the brand is neither cheap nor premium but needs to fight for the middle ground, and that it stands for “good value, good cars, Britishness”. It’s prosaic but it’s astute. Brands are stronger when they’re built on realities and genuine attributes.

That Britishness is key. Vauxhall is unique to Britain: everywhere else a Vauxhall is an Opel. Yes, it’s the same car, rebadged, but it doesn’t have to fit absolutely with Opel positioning and values. So Vauxhall presents an unusual opportunity to depart from Opel’s pan-European branding and positioning.

Vauxhall needs this latitude: before it entered into full product-sharing with its sister brand, Opel had the sexy GT sports coupe at the same time as Vauxhall had the Victor, a car your uncle Ken would have driven to the bowling club. Opel’s logo is a lightning bolt referencing the German military; Vauxhall’s is a heraldic emblem referencing its Luton home. The products may now be the same but the brands are different.

In recent years mid-market car companies like Vauxhall have been squeezed to within a millimetre of their lives, partly by the encroachment of the value brands but mostly by the relentless expansion of the premium brands into mainstream product segments. The way out of this is not to take them on directly. Vauxhall’s Opel sister brand has already acknowledged that, talking now about premium styling, materials and technology, not becoming a more premium brand. There’s a big difference. Tozer understands this.

Yes, other mainstream makes are trying to go premium, and some may make it work. Hyundai for example. It’s just announced the Genesis model for Europe which will have a list price of almost £50,000. Few will be shifted but Hyundai is in a different place from Vauxhall. It’s still emerging. The Genesis is a way of telling European consumers about the quality it puts into its everyday cars. It endorses the Hyundai brand.

Vauxhall and Opel are due 27 new products by 2018, and it starts later this year with a new Corsa supermini. That’s a good thing. Superminis sell. They’re mainstream and so is Vauxhall. The Corsa – not cheap, not premium, but attractively styled, with a high quality interior, efficient engines and the latest technologies – is the car which will endorse the redefined Vauxhall brand.

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