Just five years ago the future was looking bleak for Vauxhall’s light commercial vehicle plant in Luton.
So soon after the closure of the car factory next door, there were concerns that the van facility would suffer a similar fate.
Vauxhall’s parent General Motors was plunged into Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of the economic downturn and its European operations were in disarray. This led to issues with Renault, its medium van joint venture partner when it looked as though giant Canadian supplier Magna was going to buy GM’s European business.
In the end, GM came through and the future of the Luton plant is now guaranteed for the next 10 years after it won the business to continue assembly of the Vivaro medium van. The next generation model goes into production there at the end of the three-week August shut-down.
Launch manager Paul Clark said the Decision to go ahead with new Vivaro was made two years ago and GM has invested £85m at Luton. The van plant employs around 1,100 people producing 47,000 vehicles a year on a single, 10-hour shift – half of them for export. Depending on the market and increasing sales volumes, a second shift can be added. The tipping point is just short of 60,000 vehicles a year.
Opel and Vauxhall-badged vehicles will be produced on long and short-wheelbase form and equipped with a 1.6-litre diesel engine in single or twin turbo form and in four power configurations. It will share pressings with its Vivaro sister plant at Sandouville near Le Havre in France which will also supply the UK with high roof versions of the new Vivaro.
The decision to award Luton the contract has also been good news for UK suppliers as Vauxhall has increased its domestic parts sourcing from 25 per cent to 40 per cent for the new model including a number of high value components such as seats, fuel tanks, bumpers, ladder frame and a number of sheet metal parts.
Clark said: “It was a big boost for the workforce which worked really hard to win the business. It could easily have gone to another plant but we have been able to prove that there is more than just keeping costs down. We have also proved at Luton that we can be flexible and produce vehicles to the highest quality.”
Vivaro production has kept the Luton plant going for the past 12 years. Following a joint venture with Isuzu of Japan which produced the Frontera 4×4, Vauxhall has been making LCVs with current partner Renault.
Plant director Mike Wright said: “Winning the business for the new model was absolutely vital for Vauxhall and Luton – along with the airport next door we are the biggest employers in the area.
“We could easily have lost the new model to Sandouville, which is a huge factory, and could certainly cope with the volume to supply all over Europe.
“We were able to show a good balance between cost and quality and we have great labour relations. The unions have proved to be very flexible and in the 16 years I have been here we have not had a single walk-out. We have been able to negotiate our way around any issues.”