Fleet News

Opel unveils crucial new Vectra for 2002

NEW fleet cars don't come much more important than this. These are the first official pictures of the new Opel/Vauxhall Vectra: the car that must convince fleet buyers that US giant General Motors can once again compete with the best Europe has to offer in the upper-medium segment - cars like the Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo.

Today's Vectra has fallen well behind the standards expected of a modern medium-sized saloon - in areas like refinement, handling, performance, packaging, styling and cabin quality.

Yet it still sells comparatively well - particularly in Germany and Britain, where the Vectra is built. Perhaps that's because Opel and Vauxhall are perceived as national brands in those two countries.

But fleet industry sources say the Vectra's continuing success is partly due to Opel and Vauxhall's strong fleet support programme, and because they have also been offering fleets some extremely tempting financial deals. Even outgoing models have their place in a market where cost remains among the most important considerations for fleet managers.

Yet fleets have been struggling to negotiate sizable discounts from other manufacturers. Why? Because almost every major player in the market has launched a new car in the past two years (Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat, Renault Laguna, Citroen C5, Volvo S60), and they have been determined to resist devaluing their products so soon after their debuts.

Leading fleet buyers and experts have already tested the new car, giving Opel/Vauxhall early reactions to styling, specification, packaging and driveability.

'It's a big improvement on the current car, but there are still a few reservations,' one told Fleet News Europe. 'The interior quality still falls behind other cars in the sector, and I'm not sure that it looks different enough to make it desirable to fleet drivers - particularly those who select their own cars.'

Another was more complimentary. 'You have to look at Opel's market for this car,' he said. 'It's a conservative customer base, and I think these conservative customers are going to be impressed with the new Vectra. It may not take any major risks, but it will do everything that a fleet manager can ask of it.

'The cars we tested were pre-production models, so it's too early to really judge things like fit and finish. Also, Opel/Vauxhall had not set specification levels or prices - so it's still too early to say how the car will be pitched against the main competition.'

The marketing campaign for the new Vectra is expected to push safety more than ever before. GM says the car is exceptionally strong, thanks to the use of hi-tech construction materials such as aluminium and magnesium. Standard front, side and curtain airbags will feature in many markets, as will active head restraints.

Petrol engines at launch will stretch from a 1.8-litre unit to a 2.2-litre, while V6 models are expected later. Diesel alternatives will include 2.0 and 2.2-litre engines, and a BMW-sourced six-cylinder unit in the longer term.

Spring 2002 launch

THE new Vectra range will continue to feature four- and five-door models, as well as an estate in 2003. The four- and five-door versions will be launched in most European markets next spring.

But it is a new spin-off crossover vehicle based on the Signum concept car from the Frankfurt Motor Show that's attracting most attention. This five-door/estate cross looks more distinctive, and much more purposeful than standard four- and five-door models.

It is rumoured to provide class-leading accommodation, and is expected to prove a hit with fleets when it is launched in 2003. Opel sees it as fitting between the Vectra and Omega ranges - and says there may be four-wheel drive versions in the future.

GM bids to push Opel upmarket

THE new Vectra will continue to be made in Germany and Britain - but the vast majority of cars will be built in Germany at the huge Russelsheim plant.

At the end of last year, GM announced it was shutting the Vectra plant at Luton, England in a bid to cut overcapacity problems in Europe. Despite outraged protests by workers at the factory, most industry observers understood the need for such a decision.

But no one could have predicted what happened next. On top of Russelsheim, GM said that a limited number of new Vectras would also be produced at Vauxhall's other British plant at Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool. They said that Ellesmere Port would be turned into a 'flex-plant', meaning Vectras could be built on the same line as the Astra - but critics said GM had announced the move purely as a sop to workers and unions furious that Luton was closing. GM strongly denied such accusations.

Despite this, the vast majority of new Vectras will be made in Germany - and GM will be marketing Opel and the new car as German. GM wants to strengthen the Opel brand so it will be considered alongside other German names like Audi and Volkswagen in foreign markets - including the rest of continental Europe and the Far East. (November 2001)

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