Foundation to 1925
Oldest surviving Vauxhall, delivered in November 1903
Scottish marine engineer
Alexander Wilson founded the company at 90–92 Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall, London, in 1857. Originally named Alex Wilson and Company, then Vauxhall Iron Works from 1897, the company built pumps and marine engines. In 1903 the company built its first car, a five-horsepower single-cylinder model steered using a tiller, with two forward gears and no reverse gear. About 70 were made in the first year, before the car was improved with wheel steering and a reverse gear in 1904. A single survivor could still be seen at the London Science Museum in 1968. A 1903 model was entered in the London to Brighton car run in 2018.
To expand, the company moved the majority of its production to Luton in 1905. The company continued to trade under the name Vauxhall Iron Works until 1907, when the modern name of Vauxhall Motors was adopted. The company was characterised by its sporting models, but after World War I the company's designs were more austere.
Much of Vauxhall's success during the early years of Vauxhall Motors was attributable to Laurence Pomeroy. He joined Vauxhall in 1906 at the age of twenty-two, as an assistant draughtsman. In the winter of 1907/8, the chief designer F. W. Hodges took a long holiday, and in his absence the managing director Percy Kidner asked Pomeroy to design an engine for cars to be entered in the 1908 RAC and Scottish Reliability Trial, held in June that year. The cars were so successful that Pomeroy took over from Hodges.
Pomeroy's first design, the Y-Type Y1, had outstanding success at the 1908 RAC and Scottish 2000 Mile Reliability Trials – showing excellent hill climbing ability with an aggregate of 37 seconds less time in the hill climbs than any other car in its class. With unparalleled speeds around the Brooklands circuit, the Vauxhall was so far ahead of all other cars of any class that the driver could relax, accomplishing the 200 miles (320 km) at an average speed of 46 mph (74 km/h), when the car was capable of 55 mph (89 km/h). The Y-Type went on to win class E of the Trial.
The Y-Type was so successful that it was decided to put the car into production as the A09 car. This spawned the Vauxhall A-Type. Four distinct types of this were produced between 27 October 1908 – up to when mass production halted in 1914. One last A-Type was put together in 1920. Capable of up to 100 mph (160 km/h), the A-Type Vauxhall was one of the most acclaimed 3-litre cars of its day.
Two cars were entered in the 1910 Prince Henry Trials, and although not outright winners, performed well, and replicas were made for sale officially as the C-type – but now known as the Prince Henry. During the First World War, Vauxhall made large numbers of the D-type, a Prince Henry chassis with de-rated engine, for use as staff cars for the British forces.
After the 1918 armistice, the D-type remained in production, along with the sporting E-type. Pomeroy left in 1919, moving to the United States, and was replaced by C.E. King. In spite of making good cars, expensive pedigree cars of the kind that had served the company well in the prosperous pre-war years were no longer in demand: the company struggled to make a consistent profit and Vauxhall looked for a major strategic partner.
1925 to 1945
On 16 November 1925, Vauxhall was acquired by General Motors Corporation for US$2.5 million. The company's image and target market were gently but firmly changed over the next five and more years, marked particularly by the introduction in late 1930 of the low-cost two-litre Vauxhall Cadet and the next year the first Bedford truck, which was Chevrolet based. Vauxhall's chief engineer since 1920, Charles Evelyn King, would retire as engineering director in 1950. The company's future chief engineer, Harold Drew, left Luton for a spell working as a draughtsman with GM's Lansing-based Oldsmobile division. As the first significant post-acquisition passenger car, the Cadet, initially retailing at £280, is generally regarded as demonstrating Vauxhall's newly acquired interest and expertise in controlling production costs, but it was also the first British car to feature a synchromesh gearbox.
During the Second World War car production at Luton was suspended to allow Vauxhall to work on the new Churchill tank. Despite a bombing raid in August 1940, in which 39 employees were killed, it was taken from specification to production in less than a year, and assembled there (as well as at other sites). More than 5,600 Churchill tanks were built. Luton also produced around 250,000 lorries for the war effort, alongside the new Bedford Dunstable plant, which was opened in 1942, with Bedford designs being common in British use. As a morale booster for the company employees, on 23, 24 and 25 February 1944, Adelaide Hall appeared in concert at the factory in Luton, where she entertained the employees during their lunch break. In all she performed in front of more than 10,000 workers; it was the first time that Vauxhall had contracted a star to perform at their factory for three consecutive days.
1945 to 1970
A buyer and seller looking under the bonnet of a Vauxhall at a dealership in Denmark in the 1950s
Passenger car production resumed after the end of the Second World War. Models were more mass-market than pre-war products, helping to drive an expansion of the company. A manufacturing plant at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, was opened in 1962, initially making components to supply to the production lines in Luton, before passenger car production began there in 1964.
In 1963 production of the Vauxhall Viva small family car commenced, with the new car being aimed at the likes of the Ford Anglia and Morris Minor. The German version of the car was sold as the Opel Kadett. The locally assembled Vauxhall Viva was launched in Australia in May 1964. In 1966 Vauxhall's Slant Four went into production – the first production overhead camshaft inline-four engine to use a rubber timing belt. Also the FD Victor was launched at the Earls Court Motor Show, considered by many to be one of Vauxhall's finest all-British styling efforts.
During the 1960s Vauxhall acquired a reputation for making rust-prone models. The corrosion protection built into models was tightened up significantly, but the reputation dogged the company until the early 1980s.
In 1967 Vauxhall became a Royal Warrant Holder: Motor Vehicle Manufacturers to HM The Queen – The Royal Mews. The warrant of HRH The Prince of Wales was added in 1994.
By the late 1960s, the company was achieving five-figure sales on its most popular models, including the entry-level Viva and larger Victor.
1970 to 1990
In 1970 the HC Viva was launched, which went on to become Vauxhall's best-selling car of the decade, featuring among the best 10 selling cars in Britain each year until after 1976, with production not finishing until 1979, when the Viva nameplate was finally discontinued after 16 years and three generations. In 1973, the Vauxhall Firenza "Droopsnoot" coupe was unveiled at the Earls Court Motor Show, introducing the public to Vauxhall's new aerodynamic look for all of its subsequent 1970s models.
By 1973 the Victor was losing sales in a market that was becoming increasingly dominated by the Ford Cortina. This was not enough to keep Vauxhall from being well behind market leaders Ford and British Leyland in sales, and most of its range was struggling even to keep pace with Chrysler UK (formerly the Rootes Group).
Vauxhall's sales began to increase from 1975, with the launch of two important new models, the Chevette, a small three-door hatchback that was the first car of its kind to be built in Britain; and the Cavalier, a stylish four-door saloon designed to compete head-to-head with the all-conquering Ford Cortina. A two-door coupe and three-door "sport hatch" had joined the Cavalier range by 1978, but there never was an estate version. The Cavalier helped Vauxhall regain lost ground in this crucial sector of the market, while the Chevette proved to be hugely popular in the growing supermini sector, as more buyers turned to smaller cars following the Oil Crisis of 1973. The Chevette range later evolved into a three-door estate as well as saloons with two or four doors.
Both models were based on models produced by Opel, GM's German subsidiary, the Chevette being based on the Opel Kadett, but with a distinct front end. Along with the Chevrolet Chevette in the US and Canada, the Chevette and Kadett were built on GM's T-Car platform. Similarly, the Cavalier was based on the Opel Ascona, but featured the front end of the Manta, as did the Chevrolet Chevair in South Africa. These models were built on the GM J platform.
This marked the end of a long and gradual process by GM to consolidate its two European subsidiaries with preference for the larger and, in terms of both absolute sales and market share, more successful Opel. Since the early 1960s Vauxhalls, whilst being designed and built in the United Kingdom, increasingly shared their general specification, engineering features and styling with Opel counterparts (the Viva with the Kadett and the Victor with the Rekord, for instance) even if the two cars were distinct, with few to any interchangeable parts. From the late 1960s and into the early 1970s increasing economic turmoil in the UK, declining build quality and increasing strike action throughout British industry (and, in stark contrast, the 'Wirtschaftswunder' or 'economic miracle' of West Germany during the same period), plus the entry of the UK into the in 1973, made maintaining two parallel model lines serving similar markets increasingly undesirable. The FE Series Victor, launched in 1972, would be the last all-British Vauxhall. Following the introduction of the Chevette and Cavalier virtually all future Vauxhalls would be lightly restyled Opels (the exceptions would be based on models from elsewhere in the GM organisation). However Vauxhall would retain its two British factories at Luton and Ellesmere Port, with most cars wearing the Vauxhall badge still being built in the UK.
The introduction of the Opel-based Vauxhalls marked a significant improvement in both the design and build quality of Vauxhall cars, which were now considered strong rivals to their Ford competitors. By the end of the 1970s, Vauxhall had boosted its market share substantially, and was fast closing in on Ford and British Leyland.
In 1978 Vauxhall strengthened its position in the executive car market with the launch of its all-new Carlton saloon and estate, which were facelifted versions of the German-built Opel Rekord. A year later, a more upmarket saloon model, the Senator, was launched under the Opel brand, and finally became available as a Vauxhall from 1983.
By 1979, Vauxhall had increased its market share substantially; it was still some way behind Ford and British Leyland, but had overtaken Talbot (the Peugeot-owned successor to Rootes and Chrysler UK).
Early in 1980, Vauxhall moved into the modern family hatchback market with its Astra, (Opel Kadett elsewhere) range that replaced the ageing Viva, and quickly became popular with buyers. The Astra was a rebadged version of the first front-wheel drive Opel Kadett, which had been launched in 1979, and was sold alongside the Astra for several years.
1981 saw the release of the Mk2 Cavalier, the first Vauxhall of this size to offer front-wheel drive and a hatchback bodystyle. Built at the Luton plant, it was the car that really boosted Vauxhall's fortunes, with the Cavalier's sales for 1982 almost trebling its total for 1981, and peaking at more than 130,000 by 1984. During that time, sales of the Vauxhall brand more than doubled.
The Vauxhall Astra Mk I, in production from 1979 to 1984
This was complemented in 1983 with an estate), based on the Camira produced in Australia by Holden, with the tailgates for the Vauxhall version being built there and shipped to Luton. It was Britain's second best selling car in 1984 and 1985, and spent most of its production life vying with the Ford Sierra for top place in the large family car market. The Cavalier was relaunched in 1988, an all-new format which won praise for its sleek looks and much-improved resistance to rust.
April 1983 saw the launch of the Nova supermini, a rebadged version of the Spanish built Opel Corsa. The new entry-level model in the Vauxhall range, it was available as a hatchback or a saloon and was solely built at the Zaragoza plant in Spain. This completed Vauxhall's regeneration, and by the end of the 1980s it had overtaken Austin Rover (formerly British Leyland) as Britain's second most popular carmaker. The arrival of the Nova also spelled the end of the Chevette in 1984 after nearly a decade in production.
The Astra further strengthened its position in the market with an all-new model in the autumn of 1984, featuring an aerodynamic design reminiscent of Ford's larger Sierra.
The Vauxhall Carlton Mark I
In 1984 the aerodynamically styled Vauxhall Astra Mk2 built at the Ellesmere Port Plant became the first Vauxhall car to be elected European Car of the Year. From the spring of 1985, the Vauxhall Nova was also available as a four-door saloon and five-door hatchback.
In January 1986, Vauxhall launched the Belmont – a saloon version of the Astra which offered more interior space and was almost as big as a Cavalier. However, this car failed to reach Vauxhall's expectations in terms of sales, and from 1989 was rebadged the Astra Belmont.
Vauxhall won another "European Car of the Year" award with its all-new Vauxhall Carlton, a rebadged Opel built vehicle and badged Opel Omega in the rest of Europe, sealing the award for 1987. A year after the launch of the MK2 Carlton, Vauxhall revitalised its flagship Senator to create a new generation luxury saloon.
The Luton-built Cavalier (Mk3) (sold as the Opel Vectra in Ireland and mainland Europe) entered its third generation in 1988 – with an all-new sleek design that further enhanced its popularity. The Calibra coupé followed in 1989, which was officially the most aerodynamic production car in the world on its launch. Falling between the Cavalier and Senator was the Opel built Carlton (Opel Rekord and later Opel Omega elsewhere) – relaunched in 1986, and was voted European Car of the Year, a large four-door family saloon. There were two sports versions of the Carlton: the 3000 GSi and the Lotus Carlton, the latter being aimed at family-minded executives and, at 175 miles per hour (282 km/h), considered the fastest four-door production car at the time. Most importantly, the latest generation of Vauxhall models dispelled the image of rusting cars that had for so long put potential buyers off the Vauxhall brand, and given it a strong competitor in all the major market sectors, whereas during the first half of the 1970s only the Viva was a serious threat to any of its key rivals.
By 1990, Vauxhall was preparing to launch the MK3 Astra, as well as its first ever 4X4 off-road vehicle, while a replacement for the Nova was also in development.
1990 to 2000
Griffin House, became the Vauxhall headquarters building in 1991. It had previously been the design and testing building.
In 1991, Vauxhall's corporate headquarters were moved to Griffin House, formerly the company's design and testing building. In the same year, the third generation Vauxhall Astra went on sale (with Opel versions adopting the Astra nameplate for the first time) and the saloon version badged Astra rather than Belmont. Vauxhall joined forces with Isuzu to produce the Frontera, a four-wheel drive off-roader available in short and long-wheelbase versions.
In 1993 the Cavalier was firmly re-established as Britain's most popular large family car, with more than 130,000 sales, while the third generation Astra (relaunched in 1991) with 100,000 sales was continuing to narrow the gap between itself and the best-selling Ford Escort. The Astra was now joined by the Belmont – a four-door booted version of the Astra. This continued for some time until being renamed Astra, presumably to provide combined sales/registration figures. The decade-old Nova was axed in 1993, in favour of the all-new Corsa, adopting the European naming of the model; its distinctive styling and practical interior began attracting more sales than its predecessor had done.
In 1994 GM ceased production of Bedford Vehicles because their profits were decreasing over time. Bedford Vehicles had been Vauxhall's commercial vehicle arm, making successful vans, trucks and lorries since the 1930s. The last "true" Bedford light commercials – the Bedford HA and Bedford CF panel vans – had already ceased production in 1983 and 1987 respectively, and had been replaced by licence-built versions of Isuzu and Suzuki vans such as the Midi and Rascal. Production of these models continued at Luton, now badged Vauxhall but built by a separate company named IBC (Isuzu-Bedford Commercials). Also in 1994, the Vauxhall Carlton nameplate was abandoned after 16 years, and Omega took its place, becoming the first model to feature the new corporate "v" grille. Vauxhall also added another vehicle to its four-wheel drive line-up in the shape of the Isuzu-based Monterey. Vauxhall joined the expanding "compact coupé" market with its new Corsa-based Tigra model.
The Cavalier nameplate was axed in 1995 after 20 years, a full model after Opel had dropped its Ascona nameplate, Vauxhall adopting the common Vectra nameplate for its successor, completing a policy by General Motors that aligned and identically badged all Vauxhall and Opel models. Vectra received disappointing feedback from the motoring public, and several well-known journalists, most notably Jeremy Clarkson. Yet it was still hugely popular, and for a while after the 1999 facelift, it was actually more popular than Ford's highly acclaimed Mondeo. In 1996, Vauxhall launched the short-lived Sintra large MPV. The Astra entered its fourth generation in 1998, and offered levels of build quality and handling that were better than all of its predecessors.
A 1999 Vauxhall Omega 2.5 TD GLS Estate
In 1999, the seven-seater compact MPV Zafira, based on the Astra chassis, went on sale and the Vauxhall Monterey was withdrawn from sale in the UK, although it continued to sell in the rest of Europe as an Opel.
In the late 1990s, Vauxhall received criticism in several high-profile car surveys. In 1998 a Top Gear customer satisfaction survey condemned the Vauxhall Vectra as the least satisfying car to own in Britain. A year later the Vauxhall marque was ranked last by the same magazine's customer satisfaction survey. The Vauxhall range received particular criticism for breakdowns, build-quality problems, and many other maladies – which meant that quality did not reflect sales success. Nevertheless, Vauxhall was competing strongly in the sales charts, and by 1999 was closer to Ford in terms of sales figures than it had been in years.
2000 to 2010
In 2000 Vauxhall entered the sports car market with the Lotus-based VX220 roadster. It re-entered the coupé market with the Astra Coupé. The new Agila city car and a second generation of the Corsa supermini also went on sale. On 12 December 2000, Vauxhall announced that car production at its Luton plant would cease in 2002, with the final vehicle being made in March 2002 following the end of production of the Vectra B and production of its replacement moving to Ellesmere Port alongside the Astra. Manufacture of vans (sold under the Vauxhall, Opel, Renault and Nissan badges throughout Europe) continued at the IBC Vehicles plant in Luton. On 17 May 2006, Vauxhall announced the loss of 900 jobs from Ellesmere Port's 3,000 staff, part of significant worldwide staff reductions by GM.
The Vauxhall Vectra Mark II, in production from 2002 to 2008
In 2002, the all-new Vectra went on sale, alongside a large hatchback badged as the Signum, which arrived the following year. 2002 was one of the best years ever for Vauxhall sales in the UK. The Corsa was Britain's second most popular new car, and gave the marque top spot in the British supermini car sales charts for the first time. The Astra was Britain's third best-selling car that year, while the Vectra and the Zafira (a compact MPV launched in 1999) were just outside the top ten. The second generation Vectra was launched in 2002 and was further improved over earlier Vectras, but was still hardly a class-leader, and now had to be content with lower sales due to a fall in popularity of D-sector cars; although a facelift in 2005 sparked a rise in sales.
In 2003, Vauxhall Omega production ended after nine years, with no direct replacement, while the Meriva mini-MPV was launched. Perhaps the most important Vauxhall product of the 2000s so far is the fifth generation Astra, launched in early 2004 – and praised by the motoring press for its dramatic styling. It was an instant hit with British buyers, and was the nation's second best-selling car in 2005 and 2006, giving the all-conquering Ford Focus its strongest competitor yet. Many police forces across the United Kingdom adopted the Astra as the standard patrol vehicle (panda car). Also in 2004, production of the Frontera ended after 13 years, with no direct replacement.
In 2006, the third generation of the Vauxhall Corsa went on sale, after having its world premier launch at the 2006 British International Motor Show at ExCeL London. The second generation Corsa had been Britain's most popular supermini for most of its production life, but by 2006 it had started to fall behind the best of its competitors, so an all-new model was launched. This Corsa sold far better than either of the previous Corsas, and it was an instant hit with buyers. Also in 2006, the second generation Zafira was the tenth-biggest selling car in the UK, the first time that an MPV had featured in the top 10 best-selling cars in Britain.
In 2007 Vauxhall's new 4x4, the Vauxhall Antara, was released in July. Vauxhall's powerful VXR8 that came with 306 kilowatts (416 PS; 410 bhp) was also introduced.
In 2008, Vauxhall began rebranding with a modified corporate logo. The Vauxhall Insignia was launched at the 2008 British International Motor Show at ExCeL London, replacing the Vectra and won another "European Car of the Year". Vauxhall launched the new Agila city car.
In 2009, a new generation of the Vauxhall Astra was launched.
On 30 May 2009, a deal was announced which was to lead to the spin-off of the Vauxhall and Opel brands into a new company. On 1 June 2009, Vauxhall Motors' troubled parent company, General Motors filed for bankruptcy in a court in New York. By then the sale of Vauxhall and its German sister subsidiary, Opel, was being negotiated as part of a strategy driven by the German government to ring fence the businesses from any General Motors asset liquidation. The sale to Canadian-owned Magna International was agreed on 10 September 2009, with the approval of the German government. During the announcement regarding the sale, Magna promised to keep the Vauxhall factory at Ellesmere Port open until 2013, but could not guarantee any further production after that date. On 3 November 2009, the GM board called off the Magna deal after coming to the conclusion that Opel and Vauxhall Motors was crucial to GM's global strategy.
2010 to 2016
In 2010, the new Vauxhall Movano was launched and a new Meriva (launched at Geneva Motor Show) went on sale in mid-2010.
The Ampera E-Rev, short for extended range electric vehicle, went on sale in the UK in 2011 with a 16 kWh, 400 lb (180 kg) lithium-ion battery pack that delivers 40 miles (64 km) of motoring and a 1.4-litre petrol engine that extends the car's range to 350 miles (560 km). It won the "European Car of the Year". A new Vauxhall Combo went on sale in late 2011 and a facelifted Corsa went on sale in early 2011. The Zafira Tourer compact MPV was released in late 2011.
In 2012, the Vauxhall Adam city car was launched at the Paris Motor Show in late 2012, with sales beginning in early 2013. A new Vauxhall Mokka compact SUV was launched at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.
In May 2012, GM announced plans to move much of the production of Astra vehicles from mainland Europe to the UK. The company announced it would invest £125 million in the Ellesmere Port factory and spend about £1bn in the UK component sector. It is reported that Astras produced at Ellesmere Port contain only 25 percent British parts, far below the typical 50 to 55 percent local content requirement Britain would have to agree to in bilateral trade deals.
HydroGen4 is the successor of the fuel cell vehicle Opel HydroGen3, developed by General Motors/Opel and presented in 2007 at the IAA in Frankfurt and was expected to hit the market in 2016.
In December 2015, Safety officials ask Vauxhall to initiate a full safety recall of the Zafira B model, due to a worrying level of 'Improper Repairs'.
2017 to present
Acquisition by Groupe PSA
On 3 March 2017, sources revealed that the American group General Motors has reached a tentative agreement with Groupe PSA for the acquisition of the Vauxhall and Opel brands and the complete Vauxhall/Opel automobile business.
On 6 March 2017, General Motors (GM) and Groupe PSA announced their agreement that PSA will buy GM's Vauxhall and Opel subsidiaries in a deal worth €2.2 billion.
In preparation for the sale, the ownership of all GM plants and Vauxhall/Opel sales organisations in Europe (except the Turin development center, and GM Europe with the sales organisations for Cadillac and Chevrolet) were transferred to Adam Opel GmbH in Rüsselsheim, and then at end of June 2017 in one package from Adam Opel GmbH to her subsidiary named Opel Automobile GmbH whose ownership was transferred to Peugeot S.A. by August 1, 2017. The historic Adam Opel GmbH remains property of GM with the sole purpose of paying out the factory pensions of the former Opel workers who left up to July 31, 2017.
On 18 September 2017, Vauxhall's official company name was changed from 'General Motors UK Limited' (in use since 16 April 2008), back to its original 'Vauxhall Motors Limited'.