AROnline takes a look back at some of the memorable automotive blunders in more recent times from both our own, and rival makes.
Mike Humble feels the pain of the people carrier driver and recalls Vauxhall’s answer to to the large MPV… The Vauxhall Sintra
Gone, and probably best forgotten
Two words that can put the fear of god into any red-blooded petrolhead – with the exceptions of insurance costs – are ‘people’ and ‘carriers’. They sure scare the life out of me – and we don’t even have them. Children, speaking as an ex-car salesman, can be the dread of your typical Saturday customer, as the Brady bunch pop by to wreak havoc in the showroom. The kids will run wild opening and slamming the doors on every showroom model, knocking over the potted rubber plants and spilling the free hot chocolate all over your keyboard and desk.
To add insult to injury, just as you are moments away from signing them up, little Billy hits little Susie and all hell breaks loose. The customer’s attention is gone and they leave the showroom in part embarrassment, promising to come back – often never doing so. Any readers who have worked the pitch will know exactly what I mean!
From pleasure to pain
Now don’t get me wrong. I like kids and in fact, I am an Uncle to two gorgeous and intelligent little girls who also cheeky and inquisitive – very much like how I was when at their age. But my younger brother has told me many times, he intends to keep his Golf GTI Turbo and the wife’s Focus company smoker, and simply make do – rather than buy a dreaded people carrier. They serve a purpose and cater for the larger family or mini cab driver – and a good friend of mine in Suffolk who’s partner runs a childminding business, could not operate without their Zafira CDTi. So there! They do have their place in life.
I worked in a huge Vauxhall showroom a few years back, and will never forget the customer who came in with his wife, a toddler and new born baby in a carrycot. Outside, having a sneaky snout, I witnessed them arrive in an oldish, but immaculate silver BMW 530i in the parking area. Stubbing out, I hot footed it back into the showroom and pumped myself full of Wrigley’s Extra and subsequently went on to sign him up for a Panacotta coloured Zafira CDTi Exclusive. But you could see the pain in his eyes having to part with his beloved BMW – and I felt his loss of changing the ultimate driving machine for a brick on wheels, with a Tweenies CD in the head unit. Rather than something by Tom Petty.
An often unloved car
As I type this, memories come flooding back to me of the day a customer came in to get a part exchange valuation on a knackered early Ford Galaxy. It drove like a home-made go-kart, and had an interior akin to fly-tipping site. After I took all the relevant details down, I gave the appraisal sheet to my used car business manager who sent the sheet back while I was sat with the customer as we thumbed through the glossy for the new Meriva over a Kenco.
Glancing at the valuation form, I noted where the make and model box was printed, he had crossed out Ford Galaxy and written ‘Shelvoke Drewry‘ as the model type – we had a similar sense of humour you see!
There have been some good and bad people carriers. The current Zafira is a popular car helped by the fact they are affordable, reasonably well kitted out and not too offensive on the eye. The Volkswagen Sharan also continues to sell in decent numbers, being considerably more expensive than the Vauxhall, but having that VW kudos that appeals to the brand-conscious. The car that started it all, the Renault Espace, is now an also-ran car, which sells in penny numbers. But its smaller brother, the Scenic, was a sales hit.
Well, it was until the current range came along, which now threatens to kill off this one time maker of wonky but oddly appealing cars.
An ever growing automotive sector
Even the Koreans have jumped in with cars like the Hyundai Tragedy (Trajet) and the simply awful Kia Sedona. Backed up with warranties other makers would die for, cars like the Sedona make a really good case for themselves, instead of buying a secondhand Sharan. But for a buyer with no other priority than having the cheapest large new people carrier to simply run into the ground, the Sedona is a tough one to beat.
The number of sales I lost to the bloody Kia was countless. I recall one customer who was after nothing other than a deal – after much haggling, we worked out that a Zafira with the same level of equipment was something like £4000 more than the Sedona diesel he had been offered. And that was taking into account we were making just £150 on the car we were selling!
Even after I explained that the Sedona diesel was as environmentally friendly and pleasing on the eye as a pyre of burning cattle back in the last foot and mouth crisis – never mind being worthless after five years – he was not convinced with my counter-argument. Cheapest is rarely best, and the same guy came back to me a while after buying the Kia having realised how slow, thirsty and awful it was. He popped into the showroom, shook my hand and apologised for wasting my time and how he should have listened to not just my advice – but also another dealer who sold SEATs – and then he was gone.
But hark at me slagging off the opposition, when Vauxhall sold one of the world’s most shocking people carriers ever made: the Sintra. Have a really long hard think, and try and remember when you last saw one of these bad – and I mean really bad MPVs. I thought so. You can’t.
The reason being, was that Vauxhall didn’t sell that many of them to kick off with – and that’s because they were so very poor. Made in the US, the Sintra was quickly modified for European consumption, but that still did not disguise the fact that it was expensive, thirsty, badly built and a cheap knee-jerk answer to the Galaxy and Sharan. But it did without the market research-led design from Ford, or the percieved brand quality of a VAG product. In short, it had nothing going for it. No USP. Nothing. Nada.
It was a big and spacious car, however. But where the wheels fell off, quite literally, was in the vehicles passenger safety criteria. The Sintra lost all hope of success following the early vehicle’s performance in the Euro NCAP crash testing – the very same that wiped out our Rover 100 and the Peugeot 106. After they tested the Sintra, it quickly became a known and well publicised fact, that you and your loved ones stood a better chance of survival by jumping from a fast moving train than suffering a high speed crash in a Sintra.
Used values tumbled like a falling boulder and the trade ran away in fear – the Sintra was bad news!
Another sucker punch to GM came in the JD Power owner satisfaction survey, which placed the Vauxhall Sintra a convincing 182nd out of… erm 182 cars. Sales of the big Vauxhall went from painfully slow to a full stop – and GM wisely and silently deleted the car from the range in 1999. GM opted to heavily develop the already successful Zafira range into the model we see today, and the larger Sintra was never replaced.
The Vauxhall Sintra was once described to me by my friend, and one time work colleague, Neale Greenhalge as the, ‘Vauxhall Kiddie Coffin’. Slighty harsh maybe, but also not too far from the truth either it seems!
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