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GM gives Vectra second chance to be a winner

Opel/Vauxhall considered a fresh name for the next, bigger and improved Vectra which is the first model to use Epsilon, General Motors' new global medium-sized platform. Some in the industry believe 'Vectra' should have been dropped.

"It was discussed some time ago but not for long," said a Vauxhall insider. "The name was nowhere near the top of the agenda because we moved from Cavalier to Vectra only six years ago."

Opel/Vauxhall executives acknowledge the current Vectra has fallen behind D-sector opposition led by new versions of the Ford Mondeo, VW Passat, Renault Laguna and Citroen C5. Now the 2002 Vectra must catch up.

Its platform - to be used by Saab for the replacement 9-3, arriving next summer - means it is an all-new model. It more technology including a different chassis, extra safety features and addded refinement.

Cap Black Book editor Craig Adamson believed Opel/Vauxhall should have given thought to changing the car's name in view of the launch problems with the first version in 1995. He was in a group of key fleet decision makers and opinion formers taken to Germany to see new Vectra which debuts at the Geneva motor show in March. Sales start in the UK and other European markets in early summer.

Mr Adamson thought Vauxhall should do well with the model, especially as there were no other major upper medium car launches scheduled for 2002. "Competition is tough in the sector," he said. "The next Vectra is an acceptable upgrade to the current model with radically different restyling and much greater presence."

Tony Brady, fleet manager of Integris UK, which runs more than 200 Vectras, said: "The new car is sleek, rather than sporty, and roomier than the current model. The seats have better lumbar support which is a major plus for our drivers. The first impressions are right, and it should capture a few non-Vectra drivers because it's a bigger car which opens opportunities at the top end for people who downsize."

None of the first fleet visitors was able to drive the car.

The Opel/Vauxhall international press launch will be in February, followed by a first-drive for dealers. New Vectra will be launched as a 4dr and 5dr, with an estate expected by summer 2003.

The tall Signum, seen as a Vectra spin-off, was revealed as a concept at September's Frankfurt motor show. Sales are expected to start in spring 2003.

According to insiders, new Vectra reveals a new styling direction under Opel design director Hans Seer. It has a 60mm longer wheelbase, 50mm wider track and 36mm higher roofline which should address widespread criticism of the current car's limited interior.

It bears a resemblance to a stretched Astra, with much harder edged styling than the current car.

Vauxhall executives believe a key sales feature for new Vectra is the new chassis design called IDS (interactive driving system). This features a new multi-link rear axle and electro-hydraulic power steering with aluminium concepts for reduced weight. Handling and ride comfort are said to have been improved.

Vauxhall claims class-leading stability, safety, comfort and quality and the body incorporates magnesium and bake-hardened steel.

Following a £500m investment, the Opel plant at Russelsheim, Germany, will be main centre for new Vectra and production starts in January.

GM is investing £200m in the Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, plant which from April will build Vectra hatchbacks alongside Astras. Conversion to a 'flex' facility incorporates the construction and tooling of a new bodyshop and modifications to the assembly process. The adjacent supplier park has been expanded to make possible the delivery of twice the amount of sequenced parts.

In 2000, the Vectra was Britain's sixth best seller with a total of 70,704 units - Mondeo was seventh (69,377). This year, Mondeo is running at sixth best seller and Vectra has slipped from the top 10 list. Vauxhall's Astra and Corsa are fourth and fifth respectively.

Between January and the end of September, Vauxhall took 12.43% of the market (243,950), down year-on-year from 13.40% (240,959 units). (October 25, 2001)

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