The UK car marketplace has been the scene of a long and bloody conflict between Ford and Vauxhall. The two car manufacturing behemoths have jointly dominated the top 10 of the sales charts on and off for at least the past 35 years, and the quality of the latest models proves that the scrap for buyers is set to continue for a long time yet.
Initially, the two companies weren’t terribly close rivals, and not only because one was from the United States and the other from Great Britain.
While Ford set about building mass-appeal cars aimed at families, Vauxhall’s initial offerings were decidedly sporting and luxurious in intent. It was only after the Second World War that the British company’s products became more humdrum.
Both giants have been producing cars since 1903, but Vauxhall has the longer history because it’s able to trace its roots back to 1857, when Alexander Wilson established the brand as a maker of pump and marine engines.
The company was bought in 1863 by Andrew Betts Brown, who changed its output to travelling cranes, and called the company Vauxhall Iron Works.
Come 1907, the company’s name was changed to Vauxhall Motors.
The firm was acquired by General Motors in 1925 (along with Opel in 1929). Car production ceased during WW2 and tanks (the Churchill) and trucks were made instead.
Then, after the end of the war, GM changed Vauxhall’s focus away from its pre-war luxury to that of a more affordable mass-market brand.
Ford, meanwhile, was already well down the bulk-selling route, because its cars had always been designed with widespread appeal in mind.
Models such as the Model A, B, C, F, K, N, R and S had all sold in the thousands, but then in 1908 along came the Model T, and Ford’s fortunes skyrocketed.
It couldn’t build the Model T quickly enough, and sold millions of them around the world. Just 10 years after being established, Ford was expanding rapidly, and was even refining its production-line process to keep up with demand.
The two branches were merged to become Ford of Europe, and started building models common to both, such as the Ford Escort and Ford Capri. Then, the Ford Taunus and Ford Cortina became one car, just with the steering wheel on opposite sides of the cabin.
In 1963, the Vauxhall Viva appeared in the UK, and simultaneously appeared in Germany as the Opel Kadett.
Throughout the Sixties, new Vauxhalls kept coming, including the Victor and Viscount saloons.
Ford hit back with the new Granada executive express in 1972, and the Fiesta supermini hatchback in 1976.
Subsequent popular Vauxhalls throughout the 1970s included the Chevette small hatch and the Cavalier saloon, with the Astra family hatch appearing in 1980.
Since then, the two brands have battled for sales supremacy, although Ford had the advantage until the late-1990s.
Their respective ranges have largely mirrored each others. Vauxhall’s Nova and subsequent Corsa have gone nose to nose with the Fiesta, the Cavalier took on the Cortina and Sierra, then in the 1990s, the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra.
The Astra name has continued since the first car’s launch in 1980, and nowadays it faces the Ford Focus. Both sell well.
However, just occasionally one or the other has gone slightly off-piste. For a start, Ford decided to chase performance car buyers with its race-inspired Sierra Cosworth, then its rally-influenced Ford Escort Cosworth.
In 2000, Vauxhall teamed up with British sports car maker Lotus, and produced the VX220 roadster, which was based on the Lotus Elise.
Latterly, Vauxhall has pleased performance car fans by importing high-performance vehicles from Australian sister brand Holden.
The V8-engined Monaro coupe and VXR8 saloon (which is based on the Holden Commodore that races in the Australian V8 Supercars series) have both garnered significant niche followings.
At the other end of the scale, Vauxhall was the first of the two to market with an electrically powered vehicle. The Vauxhall Ampera was the sister car to the Chevrolet Volt that was sold in the United States.
However, poor sales have since led to its demise, so the second-generation of the car is not on sale in the UK.
So what of the future? Well both companies have undeniably faced shaky times in the wake of the global financial disaster, but equally both are fighting back. New models from both are highly regarded, and prospects look good.
Both also have engendered a great deal of long-term brand loyalty – people tend to be either Ford fans or Vauxhall buyers. It’s fairly rare for people to swap from one brand to the other. Looks like the battle for buyers’ signatures is going to continue for a long time yet.
At Haynes, we have an extensive range of Ford and Vauxhall repair manuals and online procedures available for professional mechanics and DIY car enthusiasts alike. We can give you all the guidance you need.