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big two ready for trial of strength

UK Sales
Sierra Cavalier (Mondeo 93 on)
1985 101,642 134,335
1986 113,861 113,475
1987 139,878 98,490
1988 162,684 96,462
1989 175,911 130,615
1990 128,705 138,357
1991 93,650 109,545
1992 77,253 108,818
1993 88,660 104,104
1994 127,144 100,115
1995 92,882 63,515
(end August)
Source: SMMT
big two ready for trial of strengthWith the launch of Vauxhall’s Vectra fast approaching, Ford is preparing for yet another battle with the Griffin.

David Sutherland reportsAT the London Motor Show the new Vectra will be launched, and so begins another predictable round of the unending boxing match between Ford and Vauxhall for dominance of the upper medium car market.Never were there more bitter rivals. In the last decade the Sierra/Mondeo and Cavalier have topped the sector for an equal number of years, with total sales neck and neck.Since 1985 some 1.3 million Sierras and Mondeos have been sold in Britain, compared with 1.2 million Cavaliers.
In that time no other manufacturers have managed a look in, the Rover 200, Montego and Peugeot 405 being the only three other models to even feature in the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Trader’s annual top 10 league.
Whether Ford or Vauxhall is on top has depended on the youth of the model. In the mid 1980s when the original Sierra was going off the boil the Cavalier stormed ahead before fading when the revamped Ford arrived in 1987. The third generation Cavalier of 1988 regained the lead during 1990-93, before being eclipsed by the Mondeo.
As successive generations of the Ford and Vauxhall contenders appear, the perceptible differences between the two models diminish. This time round, offering a very evolutionary design, Vauxhall is making a thing of the, so-called, small surprise and delight features, such as the clock in the RDS radio, which constantly checks itself against an atomic clock in Germany, apparently the world’s most accurate.
Pricing is of course crucial. An average of 1.6 per cent more expensive than the Cavalier, Vauxhall said prices make Vectras Mondeo beaters. While the Vectra 1.8LS (œ13,435) costs œ250 more than the Mondeo LX, its extra equipment includes anti-lock brakes, remote central locking and driver’s seat height adjuster.
However, this advantage may be wiped out even before the car goes on sale. Shortly before the London Motor Show in mid October, Ford is expected to reply with realigned prices and specifications for the Mondeo.
Vauxhall boss Charles Golden doesn’t shrink from making bullish predictions. “This car is good enough to catapult Vauxhall to leadership in the upper medium sector. We will sell 130,000 Vectras in the UK, including estates,” he said.
Although this forecast may seem little more than the usual car launch rhetoric, Golden stressed that he wants to see more dealers selling this model profitably, and that means more retail sales. Big daily rental deals will inevitably continue to be part of the sales picture, but Golden predicted that the pattern will be slightly different this time. “The old model hardly did any retail business, little more than 5 per cent,” he said. “This will be different, the retail business could be as high as 20 per cent.”
According to Ford the Mondeo already does reasonably healthy retail business. In 1994 and 1995 the figure has hovered around 25 per cent (although this would include an unspecified number of fleets with less than 25 cars).
But if Vauxhall dealers retain more of a margin on their Vectras, Vauxhall’s own finances aren’t going to be in particularly good shape this year.
Golden forecasts the net profit will be down on the œ102m (excluding investment provision) of 1994. Replacing the Cavalier has clearly incurred big tooling and launch costs, and he revealed that by the end of 1995 Vauxhall’s marketing support will have exceeded last year’s œ83m.
The obstinate refusal of the market, especially the retail sector, to pick up seems to have stunted Golden’s ambition to snatch market leadership from Ford. A pledge he made on taking up the job in the summer of 1993. The five point gap between the two carmakers remains unchanged.
“If market leadership came about as a result of everything else we do, that would be fine,” he said. “But leadership in itself isn’t worth much.”
And with Vauxhall not featuring in the August bout of pre-registrations this year, Golden cannot resist a jibe at Ford, which attributed its massive end of month sales largely to a change in the weather that hauled customers off their sunbeds. “What would have happened if the weather hadn’t broken?” He asked.
But Vauxhall has its own problems, one developing headache being the off road 4×4 sector. Three years ago demand for the Frontera was outstripped, with the result that dealers made good money from them, nearly new examples commanded over list price.
But despite a significantly improved model being launched in early summer, Frontera sales have collapsed. They are down by a quarter and, crucially, August volume dropped by a third. Sales of the œ20,000-plus Monterey are climbing slightly, but on average Vauxhall’s 350 specialist 4×4 dealers aren’t likely to be shifting more than half a dozen per year.
Some analysts believe that the 4×4 market is wobbling because many user chooser employees have tried a 4×4 and reverted to a conventional car. “There’s a caution flag out there and a higher decay rate than we expected,” Golden conceded.
If there is a consolation for Vauxhall it’s that the Ford Maverick, despite a mild facelift is suffering in almost equal measure. In fact it seems that increasingly the two car makers’ fortunes are converging, with the days when one could pull out a significant advantage over the other are well and truly over.
READY TO TAKE A LEAD: Vauxhall is confident that its Vectra will catapult in to top position in the upper medium sectorVECTRA/MONDEOSTRONG CONTENDER: Mondeo already does healthy business

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