A glance at the latest van sales charts in the UK shows that, in a market which is up by 16%, Vauxhall’s sales have rocketed by almost 38% (to 34,465) – a higher rise than any of the other major manufacturers have achieved.
After a two-year period of lacklustre activity, during which Vauxhall lost its coveted number two slot in the sales chart to Volkswagen, it appears the griffin is in the ascendant again.
So what exactly has led to this upturn in fortunes? According to Richard Collier, Vauxhall’s national commercial vehicle and B2B sales manager, the catalyst for this new burst of success was the launch last year of the new Vauxhall Vivaro, which won medium panel van of the year at the recent Commercial Fleet Awards.
But in an exclusive interview, Collier said there was much more to the story than simply the launch of a fresh van. More off-the-shelf conversions, a renewed programme of aftersales improvements and a greater fleet emphasis among Vauxhall’s specialist LCV dealer network all helped to “make Britain’s van fleet operators realise that Vauxhall is a pretty good company to do business with”, according to Collier.
“The Vivaro has been a fantastic success story for us since its original launch in 2001,” he says. “With the new model being launched last year we have now sold more than a million models built here at Luton and the £185m investment for the new model ensures the jobs of 1,200 people in the UK plant.”
The ‘Made in Britain’ moniker might not carry the cachet of former times, but it still means a lot to many in the van fleet industry and Vauxhall does all it can to boast of its home-grown talent. Luton is the only place in the UK that builds light commercial vehicles and the firm reckons that, counting factory staff, ancillary workers and all the other people who provide parts and services for the conversions, the company provides a total of almost 7,000 British jobs.
However, it is not just a desire to fly the Union Jack that attracts fleets to the Vauxhall brand. “It’s a matter of logistics too,” says Collier.
“Being built locally, it also means that lead times are shorter, so customers wait less for their vans, and if there is a problem we can usually sort it out quickly. We also don’t have to wait for parts from foreign companies, which also speeds up the process.”
The upgraded second generation Vivaro has proved a springboard for Vauxhall to grab more sales from rivals. “It has been a really exciting launch for us,” says Collier. “We sent out pictures of the new van before it went on sale and the reaction from potential customers was amazing. It looks too upmarket to be a workhorse, but both fleet managers and drivers liked it. That’s important. If a driver likes his van, he is going to look after it, which in turn will save fuel and give a better residual value when the vehicle is sold.”
But the Vivaro offers more than just good looks. Wholelife costs have improved over the old model and there are fuel savings of up to 15%, with items such as an eco button, which slightly cuts down on torque but saves fuel, and stop-start as standard on Ecoflex models.
Some key conquest deals for Vauxhall have been with Homeserve, British Gas and BT.
So far, sales of Vivaro are up 55% year-on-year – and it has helped lift Vauxhall to the number one sales slot in the retail van market.
But there is more good news for Vauxhall, with other models up too – Corsavan sales are up 8%, Combo is up 0.35% and Movano is up by 37%.
The huge rise in sales of the heavy panel van contender may come as a surprise to some, bearing in mind that this is not a new van. But it’s all part of Vauxhall’s master plan to extend its range of conversions.
“We are constantly improving the number of conversions we offer and the Movano makes an ideal platform for all kinds of bespoke models because it is lightweight and therefore offers a good payload and it can be built up to 4.5 tonnes,” says Collier. “It is robust and reliable with a great cab environment, which once again makes it a favourite with the drivers.”
Vauxhall offers factory-fit dropsides, tippers and box vans, all with one ticket price and one warranty – and the firm is working with 50 partners for other approved conversions – with a further 40 firms ‘on the books’ awaiting Vauxhall’s scrutiny in the hope of becoming partners too.
“We reckon we are the number one supplier of bespoke vehicles,” Collier says. “With so many approved partners on hand we can cater for any UK specific needs. As an example, British Gas was previously taking its vans to an outside converter. But under our deal, all the vans are now converted at Luton under our roof. Apart from anything else, that is a much greener way of doing things.”
Which brings us round to Vauxhall’s latest improvement to its fleet offering – the Luton Conversion Centre.
Commercial Fleet was invited to take a look around the centre, which opened in 2014 and was, at the time of our visit, busy adding bespoke extras to 400 British Gas-logoed Vivaros. At present, 40 are being converted per week. The centre can offer upgraded interiors, upgraded heating systems for vans on sale in colder Nordic climes, double-cab conversions with full bulkheads, ply-lining jobs and alarm fitments. Next year, the centre will also offer racking, sign-writing and vehicle wrapping.
“When we finally get all the services up and running at the conversion centre, we are anticipating that even more fleets will be interested in what we have to offer, as it will prove a real one-stop shop for most fleet needs without having to look elsewhere for all these essential extras,” says Collier.
Vauxhall also believes its new-found success is partly down to its improved dealer network. There are a total of 248 dealers across the country and of these, 100 are ‘Premier’ van centres where fleets are offered a while-you-wait servicing and repair service without the need to book, with the offer of a replacement vehicle if the van can’t be fixed in a short time. The dealers also offer menu pricing and fixed labour costs, along with a free van wash and wiper blade replacement. Fleets can also take advantage of an accident management plan, if needed.
Looking to the future, it is known that the present deal to rebadge the Fiat Doblo Cargo as the Combo will end in the medium term and that Vauxhall is joining with the PSA Group in offering a rebadged Citroën Berlingo/Peugeot Partner as its next Combo – but Collier declined to set a date for the new van or give reasons as to why the present Fiat/Vauxhall arrangement was being terminated.