Upwardly Mobile

After four years in development, 1.1bn of investment and months of anguish Vauxhall is finally ready to break its emotional ties with the car which has single handedly driven its success in the UK over the last 13 years.

The Cavalier, better known as the “rep-mobile”, and ever present at motorway service stations up and down the country, is dead.

Vauxhall has sold more than 1.7 million Cavaliers in the last 13 years as it moved from eight per cent share of the UK market to the number two slot hovering around 16 per cent. In the first six months of this year alone – despite the anticipated arrival of the Vectra – Vauxhall still sold 46,214 Cavaliers leaving it the fifth best seller.

Even with the launch of other models including the Astra, Calibra and Corsa – Vauxhall has never been able to shrug off its debt to the Cavalier. And in continental Europe Vauxhall is the Cavalier company.

Its importance to the UK arm of General Motors makes the decision to dump it in favour of the new all-singing, all-dancing Vectra, all the more risky. Even more so when Vauxhall’s pre-tax profits fell 83m last year because of aggressive price discounting in the most competitive car market in Europe.

Vauxhall has been seriously challenging Ford’s domination of the UK market for the last three years. If it is going to break its hold it has to do something dramatic.

It hopes the Vectra – and within the next two years an overhauled Astra – will be the car to dethrone Ford and along the way change the perception of Vauxhall from being a manufacturer of solid value-for-money cars into one that competes with the Audis, BMWs and Mercedes at the top end of the market.

The Cavalier gave it bulk, Vauxhall now wants the Vectra to give it class.

“If we get this wrong we are in deep trouble,” admits marketing director Wolfgang Schubert. That is an understatement. He knows that if it goes wrong he will be banished to somewhere east of Siberia. If the Vectra fails so does Vauxhall. It has had good reviews but it is being launched into a market against the Ford Mondeo, Citroen Xantia and Renault Laguna. The Cavalier never faced such stiff competition.

“We are moving Vauxhall in the direction of an aspirational brand. The Cavalier had taken the brand so far but we now need to reach a fresh plateau,” says Schubert.

That explains the 50m which has been set aside to market and launch the car in the UK over the next two years. It also explains why this is the most complex integrated marketing operation Vauxhall has ever conducted.

The 10m (?) supermodel campaign for the Corsa in 1992 (?) and the 1994 launch of the Omega can be seen as dry runs for the big one – The Vectra. The positioning of the car underlines the marketing approach “The new Vectra from Vauxhall, technology that puts me in charge.”

Technology is central to the whole campaign. Vauxhall expects the Vectra to set the standard for the sector.

This positioning is reflected in its advertising, direct marketing, dealer support and a host of other initiatives. One of the more unusual developments is the recruitment of 27 regional marketing consultants to advise dealers on how best to promote the car.

The television advertising reinforces the hi-tech image and is solely about securing brand awareness from day one. The ads place the car in a nether world – sometime in 2015. The creative idea features a time machine – within one second so much changes from buildings to modes of transport but the Vectra remains state of the art. Filmed against a changing backdrop mixing Blade Runner with Waterworld the film’s endline is: “Designed for the next millennium”, emphasising the importance of the car not just this week – when it goes on sale – but into the next century and beyond.

The press and poster executions fill in the detail, continue the millennium theme and indulge in some crystal ball gazing.

Originally General Motors wanted a film that would travel across the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Three executions created by Lowe Howard-Spink, McCann-Erickson and Lowe & Partners in Germany were seen but in the end Vauxhall took the decision to go with a UK-only campaign using the LH-S work.

Schubert is damning of European advertising in general, describing it as “stone age” communication in comparison with work in the UK which he believes is the most sophisticated market in Europe.

Undoubtedly it is a highly competitive and very difficult market in which to get noticed – share of voice has become as important an indicator as share of the market. The next month will see big money launches from Nissan, Volvo and Fiat as well as tweaked versions from other manufacturers. (see box)

Annual car advertising expenditure will soar above 550m and media buying club Eurospace estimates that between 20m and 30m will be spent on launches in the next six weeks alone. This is in market kept alive only by fleet purchases where retail sales could fall more than 10 per cent this year.

“We tried to find a pan-European solution that would work across borders,” says Vauxhall advertising manager John Deed. “But as soon as we saw this film we went with it and it has changed little since then. We wanted something with impact to raise expectations – the press and posters can then give detail and deliver on those expectations.”

The expectations have already been whetted by a teaser campaign of giant pink V-signs floating around motorways for the last two weeks (since October 2). Added to this is a fully integrated direct marketing campaign, sales promotion programme, CD-Rom packages, and an internet site, all on hand to force the message home.

For the first time Vauxhall has also run a series of events where dealers and potential drivers have mixed and been given a taste of the car as well as an opportunity to test drive.

The positioning also fits with the psyche of Cavalier drivers – 80 per cent of sales are to the fleet market.

“We want to attract the user choosers,” says Stuart Harris, team marketing manager on the Vectra, “they are self conscious and selfish about what they want. They are not terribly interested in anything apart from themselves but they do care about their cars.

“Many are mid-management and usually told what to do at work so in truth they have little control – they at least want to be in control of their car. They know their specifications – that is why we have paid so much attention to detail with the Vectra,” explains Harris.

Harris echoes Schubert’s view that the quantum leap Vauxhall is trying to make could not have been achieved with the Cavalier. In research it has an 80 per cent prompted response among the public – the target is to have Vectra at a 65 per cent recognition within two years. (this needs checking with Tommy on his return).

The launch of the Vectra also gives Vauxhall the opportunity to reshape its marketing. Not only is it setting standards for technology for the future Vauxhall range but also for future marketing. “The key point is consistency. It is no good to launch the Vectra in this way an then next time launch in a different way.

“If you only rely on the product advantages then you will lose out. It is not just the marketing but the whole structure and means of developing consumer enthusiasm and satisfaction.”

Vauxhall has undergone a complete change in its culture. The Vectra will have an enormous impact on judging whether that has been a change for the better.

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