Archive : The new model waiting to be unwrapped

The new model waiting to be unwrapped


The battle between the market leader Ford and fast improving Vauxhall for the lion’s share of the fleet market for medium cars, represented by their Sierra and Cavalier models, is one of the most bitter confrontations we in Britain have seen for a long time.

“Those two are not taking many prisoners and that means give away prices, follow up services and five star attention”, was how the fleet sales manager of a rival manufacturer put it. It is not difficult to sec why the two American groups are concentrating so much of their time and resources on this one sector.

Medium cars account for some 60 per cent of all cars sold in Britain and more than half are bought by companies or professional men and women. That means 500,000 cars a year on the basis of last year’s 1.79 million new car registrations. In truth, however, the medium sector is tending to divide itself into lower and upper groupings with cars like the Escort and Astra in the lower bracket. Austin Rover’s Maestro now approaching its first birthday, has tried to keep a foot in both camps because it is a little longer than Escort and offers more interior space.

Maestro has made promising inroads into fleet business but if Austin Rover is to improve on its 18.5 per cent market share it must do a great deal better. For far too long it has not had suitable models for this very demanding sector. Maestro was a start but it does not compete head on with Sierra or Cavalier.

LM11 will rectify that in April. Ever since Maestro was launched the industry’s grapevine has been full of rumours about LM11. It was said to be a booted version of the hatchback Maestro but reports to that effect caused tempers to rise at Austin Rover’s Coventry headquarters. Company sources insisted that LM11 soon to be called Montego, only bears a family likeness to Maestro and is in fact much larger. Unofficial photographs seem to support this.

Brian Mahony, Austin Rover’s UK sales director, says: “LM11 is probably the most vital ingredient in the company’s recovery plans. It is pitched directly at Cavalier and Sierra. More and more we are taking the views of fleet operators into our new product designs. Those who have seen pre-production models have been impressed”.

The importance of LM11 is underlined by the changes that have been made in the company’s fleet sales department to prepare for its arrival. In the past year another 50 fleet sales staff have been recruited and re-organised into three divisions under Jeffery Johnson, the fleet sales director. For the first time private and public sector fleet sales have their own sales team. Both are backed by an entirely new departure for a BL company, a “Think Tank” to look after long term fleet strategy and sales developments. It will be seen by fleet operators, who over the years have been very critical of BL’s lack of attention to fleet needs, as clear evidence of its determination to break with the bad old days.

Vauxhall is the new blue eyed boy in the fleet business. In September 1981 when the front wheel drive Cavalier was launched the General Motors company held a little over 8 per cent of the fleet market. At the end of last year it was claiming 16.5 per cent and within the crucial medium sector was holding a remarkable 25 to 30 per cent. John Pugh, Vauxhall’s fleet sales manager, is quite insistent that there has never been anything approaching Cavalier’s impact on fleet buyers.

“They are a notoriously conservative bunch where new cars are concerned preferring to sit back and let someone else iron out the bugs. That did not happen with Cavalier. Right from the start they took to it and they have been buying it in increasing numbers ever since. ”

But even that remarkable start is nothing compared with the spin-offs. Cavalier drew the attention of fleet buyers to the rest of Vauxhall’s rejuvenated range of models and Astra in particular.

“At the lower end we are giving full support to Nova which is now coming into freer supply and in the bigger car market the Carlton is a success story and a half with sales up from 4,000 in 1982 to 20,000 last year. It is a very fully equipped de luxe saloon which comes in below the 1800cc income tax ceiling and that makes it a very attractive package”.

Ford is acutely aware of the increased competition already in the field and the extra pressure that will be created by LM11.

“As the market leader for a long time we appreciate more than anyone else that our competitors can only make progress at our expense and there is no way we are going to take that lying down. We shall increase our efforts even further”, was how a company spokesman summed it up. Commenting on latest trends in the fleet and business car sector, Tony Semper, Ford’s fleet development manager, said: “The true cost of running a fleet of company cars is more apparent than ever now because inflation has been reduced so significantly. As a consequence the growth of specialist fleet management companies has slowed up. They are still widely used however for their leasing expertise by the middle sized companies who do not have the resources to support their own in-house fleet administration department.”

On the choice of cars he said the medium or C/D sector was shrinking and been doing so for the past three years. Downsizing to smaller, less expensive cars was a contributory factor as companies were forced to reduce transport costs. Another important influence was the personal income tax penalty applying to bigger cars.

Keith Adams
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  1. The above is an interesting Montego proposal. Still looks quite a bit larger than Maestro but is smoother, more harmonious than the Montego that hit the market. With clever trim, the centre section could have been further distanced from Maestro.
    However, as I’ve said before, could the government & the Michael Edwardes team not see that to recover BL needed Metro, Maestro with more derivatives, then Montego as a separate, third car, again with more derivatives. Trying to cover ‘Cortina’ class with an extened ‘Escort’ class car really was stretching things a bit too far.

  2. Ford suffered dreadfully and Vauxhall scored because of the jelly-mould Sierra. The press coined ‘jelly-mould’ and it wasn’t complimentary. Cavalier of the day was more conservative and that, particularly with the stench of bad press for the Sierra around, was what the fleets wanted.
    I believe the damage done to Ford’s sales was what kept the rectangular Granada around for so long.
    Likewise the radical shape of Sierra helped Montego and Montego’s boot kept sales (of a sort) when everyone else had gone the ’rounded hatch’ way (Puegot also had an old-style design kicking around in a similarly lingering fashion).
    The Ford juggernaught fought back of course and sales bloomed. But significantly the follow-ups to Sierra, including the new Granada, were nothing like as jelly-mould.

  3. #2 arelbe – i disagree about the Granada being not as “jelly-mould” as the Sierra, it was almost indistinguishable when looked at from the front/front three-quarter views.

    I ran Sierras as company cars in the 80’s and early 90’s and they had more of a solid feel to them than either the Cav or Montego. I looked at all three and chose the Ford without hesitation (Despite being solidly rooted in BL/Triumph metal in my private purchases)

  4. I’d agree that later Sierras felt solid on the road – early ones suffered from the death wander in sidewinds making the Montego a much better drive. A late Fuel Injected Montego was a much nicer engine than the equivalent Ford – however the Ford gear change was superb. Of course the best thing about later Sierra was the kit, Ford knew they had an ageing product so they specced em up generously and stuffed them full of sound proofing to hide the gruff engines. Similarly the last of the Granadas (Scorpio) not only drove really well but were very well equipped – but man – were they ugly!

  5. The Montego boot was tiny, one sduitcase and that was it, a Fiat Uno hatchback could take double the load of the Montego, – personal experience

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