Tag Archives: Vauxhall

Viva Geneva: Karl kicks out the concierge

If the underlying importance of the high-performance cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show was to point the way for electric powertrains, the fundamental theme of the show as a whole was even more real-world: how the mainstream brands are re-emerging.

Whereas a year ago the brands in the squeezed middle were focusing on countering the the premium brands with their own premium strategies, they’ve instead rightly addressed the fundamentals. In today’s market that means confident, well-designed, well-executed product in the right segments, giving them relevance in a market turned upside down by the explosion of the German premium brands over the past few years. Cars people want, not brand-stretching super-deluxe specifications, quilted leather and VIP concierge services.

Renault-Kadjar-Live-Geneva-2015-00Renault, which had a desperate few years, now looks one of the most convincing mainstream brands. Geneva saw the launch of its Kadjar crossover, effectively a version of the massively successful Nissan Qashqai cloaked in Renault’s latest and very agreeable design language. Alongside the smaller Captur crossover, Clio hatchback and Twingo mini car, it’s got the important mainstream market segments covered – and with attractive new product.

Renault’s alliance partner Nissan is also looking very healthy. It Geneva-2015-Nissan-Sway-Concept-03showed a mini concept, Sway, which is the basis of a replacement for the dowdy Micra and would complete a range differentiated by characterful design. Like the latest Qashqai, it’s a distinctive rather than disturbing like the Juke, but it still clearly says Nissan.

Nissan’s struggling upmarket brand Infiniti also looks rejuvenated, with two production-ready-looking concepts – the Q60 coupe and the more important Q30 compact crossover. That’s a model for a segment every volume carmaker needs to be in, and could be the car to finally give the company some meaning and a foothold in Europe.

maxresdefault-3SEAT has had a tough time since 2008, with an over-reliance on a bankrupt domestic Spanish market and a newly inherited position as VW Group’s bottom-rung brand thanks to the gains made by Skoda. But it’s got decent product again, and the sharply styled 20V20 SUV concept signals a wave of new SUVs which will add vital volumes. Like the Sway, it takes its brand’s existing design language and moves it on to give a clear and confident brand statement. That’s good design. Skoda’s new Superb, also revealed in Geneva, does exactly the same.

This is about having confidence in the brand: understand what you are, understand your strengths, and set about developing products which reflect that and a design language to articulate it.

Geneva2-Viva-1_3217646cThe star of the show? In this context, no contest: Opel’s new mini, Karl (Vauxhall Viva in in the UK). Opel has got a bigger job than most in re-setting itself and defining its mission. It can’t be premium but it mustn’t become merely a producer of commodities. The Karl/Viva is punchy looking, has an excellent interior, the equipment list of a £20,000 Audi, high-tech low-emissions engines, good quality and an impossible-to-ignore base price of about €9500.

But it’s not a cheap car. It’s a statement of the new Opel brand: excellent engineering, emotional design and high technology for everybody.

A car for the real world. A car with confidence.

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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.

Does i3 blow away the Leaf?

wallpaper-1600x1200-9BMW officially announced the first of its new range of electric vehicles yesterday with a simultaneous launch in Beijing, London and New York.

That tells you a lot: the company isn’t trying to convince anyone that the i3 is anything other than a city car, and one for style-conscious customers at that. It’s not any everyday car. BMW has a likeable honesty – electric cars are a compromise, but this one is less of a compromise than the rest. The company has made sure of that by offering two versions, one battery-only, complete with range anxiety, and a range-extender version with a petrol engine for topping up the batteries, similar to GM’s Ampera/Volt.

BMW has taken a properly ground-up approach to the design and engineering, with an innovative CRP passenger cell and largely aluminium chassis. So it’s light, offsetting the battery weight and helping ensure that is has the handling a BMW needs. And it has more torque than BMW’s own Mini Cooper S, so it’s quick.

But if the i3’s a game-changer it’s in the fact that it’s desirable – and not just because of the badge. It’s stylish and, critically, looks truly contemporary and different from everything else. The interior design is as modern as the technology and as clean as the emissions, with interesting fabrics, light tones and pale wood trim. Trim levels have names like Loft and Suite. Two iPad-like screens give an Apple-like feel. BMW could have made an electric 1-Series but this looks like a concept car. Or a Danish architect’s living room.

It’s cool and hi-tech, as an electric car should be. And it sensibly applies that technology to the practical task of overcoming some of the problems of EVs: the i3 comes equipped for fast charging, and a clever sat-nav system suggests ways of extending the battery range and directs you to charging points.

But the killer app is the cost. Priced from £25680 in the UK for the standard version and £28830 for the range-extender, including the government grant, it makes life uncomfortable for the Vauxhall Ampera (£29995) and even the Nissan Leaf (reduced to £20990). These are larger cars, but that’s not where the market is right now. People want premium and they want it in smaller cars, which happens to suit electric vehicles. So BMW’s answer is different – if i3 owners want to use a larger car occasionally they’ll be able to use something else from the BMW range.

The i3 will be successful precisely because BMW has understood that electric vehicles necessarily have limitations. Except in their appeal.

Top Kia

KED 10 Teaser 1 - IAA Frankfurt 2013So the Kia Cee’d, Top Gear’s Reasonably Priced Car, has gone, replaced by a Vauxhall Astra. Top Gear says it was the programme’s decision. Kia says the company decided.

Whichever, Kia had outgrown the programme, no matter how big a brand Top Gear’s become. The fact that there’s a new-generation Cee’d isn’t important. Kia had already moved on. Moved up in fact. Kia and sister brand Hyundai have grown massively in Europe over the past five years or so. In 2012 they sold about 250,000 more cars in Europe than Toyota and were not far short of Renault, Peugeot and Opel/Vauxhall.

Hyundais and Kias are good value and come with long warranties, which has helped them in the downturn. But more significantly that they’ve become desirable, especially Kia, by instilling great styling across the range. In 2006 Kia brought in Peter Schreyer, designer of the Audi TT, and has since elevated him to president of the company, the first non-Korean to hold the title. He now heads global design for Hyundai too.

The Korean company has recognised the importance of design in generating appeal and desirability. It was canny in leading with Kia, the junior partner and a brand with less baggage, and following with Hyundai, with a well established and conservative customer base. But people still buy cars on the basis of how they look. If they come with great customer care then what’s not to like? Now there’s a plan to re-launch the Lada brand on the basis of a style revolution under a British designer, Steve Mattin, who was previously design boss of Volvo.

Even Top Gear’s new incumbent is at it. The Astra is a decent-looking car, and Vauxhall/Opel parent GM Europe has introduced a rash of very well styled new models like the Astra GTC coupe, Cascade convertible, Mokka mini-SUV and the Adam, a Mini/Fiat 500 rival.

The carmakers are waking up to design. And the Reasonably Priced Car has become better looking than some of the stars who drive it.