The Griffin strikes back

Award-winning new Combo compact van and an all-new (UK-built) Vivaro replacement on the way

TVE Best of British logo | The Van Expert

Vauxhall’s back in contention with the all-new Combo winning the International Van of the Year 2019 honours, ahead of it going on sale in the UK.

This is a welcome return to form for the British brand after years of falling sales and bodes well for the future as the compact van was built as part of a collaboration with PSA Group, the owner of Peugeot, Citroën and DS, who acquired Vauxhall and its Opel twin last year from General Motors.

Work on the new Combo, and the platform sharing Peugeot Partner and Citroen Berlingo, started back in 2013 as part of a strategic alliance between GM and PSA, but the synergies achieved by all three brands will form the basis for future products.

Collaborations between van manufacturers, which significantly reduce development and production costs, are not new, indeed the last Combo was a joint venture with Fiat with underpinnings shared with the Doblo, while the Vivaro and Renault Trafic are from the same drawing board. Other brands do it too, with Volkswagen and Ford recently signing a commercial vehicle strategic alliance.

It’s early days, but so far life under PSA seems to suit Vauxhall. Earlier this year, and ahead of schedule, Vauxhall and Opel were back in the black for the first time in years.

Vauxhall has also started talking with more confidence and certainty about its future. Crucially, vans will play a bigger role than before as part of a strategic move to increase its combined car and commercial sales, and that has got to be good news for van buyers.

Vauxhall Vivaro on the road
Vauxhall Vivaro on the metaphorical road to recovery

Back on course

Last year, Vauxhall sold just 28,368 light commercials in the UK, a hefty 25% year-on-year drop, placing it fifth in the top-selling brands behind Mercedes, Peugeot, Volkswagen and the market-dominating Ford. Ten years ago, Vauxhall was selling nearly twice as many vans and up until 2011 it was the second biggest seller.

Vauxhall, like all van brands, was hit hard by the recession but it took longer to recover, which is how it lost customers to the likes of Volkswagen and Mercedes.

However, things are looking a little brighter with new products in the pipeline and a renewed focus on vans.

The all-new Combo

The all-new Vauxhall Combo, joint winner of the 2018 International Van of the Year award
The all-new Vauxhall Combo, joint winner of the 2018 International Van of the Year award

The new Vauxhall Combo could not have got off to a better start. As joint winner (with its Partner and Berlingo siblings) of the International Van of the Year, it will make its showroom debut in December amid plenty of promotional razzmatazz.

The award was the decided by a panel of van journalists across 25 European countries, winning an impressive 127 points, comfortably ahead of the second-placed Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. The judging panel said the latest generation Combo’s innovative assistance systems, fuel economy and passenger car levels of driver comfort all played decisive roles in its victory.

The win was significant as the Combo has not played a dominant role in the compact panel van sector, yet with a clean sheet design and the offer of two wheelbases (4.4m and 4.75m) it is perhaps better placed than before to chip away at the Ford Transit Connect and Renault Kangoo with a load capacity up to 1,000kg and volume of 4.4m3, big enough for two Euro pallets between the wheel arches.

There’s also a crew van option big enough for up to five occupants but with the option of folding the rear bench down and moving the partition wall behind the front seats.

Combo comforts

Drivers will certainly appreciate the high levels of technology and creature comforts which will include:

  • Advanced connectivity through a new generation infotainment system (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible) with touch-screen controls
  • Sensor-based load indicator which warns if the van is overloaded
  • Forward Collision Alert with pedestrian detection and Autonomous Emergency Braking, which sounds an alarm and a visual warning, and will brake automatically if the driver does not react to the alerts
  • Rear view camera and a passenger door mirror camera which reduces the nearside blind-spot
  • Automatic cruise control that adapts to the speed of the vehicle in front. It works together with intelligent speed adaptation, which informs the driver when a new speed limit is detected and prompts the driver to adjust the speed accordingly
  • Driver drowsiness alert which detects signs of driver fatigue and suggests the driver takes a break
  • The new Flank Guard system which links to the infotainment system to alert the driver to any obstacles on the side when turning at low speeds
  • Heated front seats and steering wheel

Prices start from £15,630 excluding VAT.

What’s next for Vauxhall?

Vauxhall Vivaro Luton The Van Expert
The replacement to today’s Vivaro van will be built in Vauxhall’s Luton factory

Vauxhall is focused on regaining the number two position in the van market, and is aiming to increase annual sales to around 40,000 units through the rollout of new products and better engagement with customers – especially SMEs and sole traders – through its dealer network.

The Combo will be the template for future vans with models created in a three-way engineering and development collaboration, with each PSA brand bringing something to the party. The challenge for all three brands will be the delivery of distinctive vehicles, not copies; something achieved here with different exterior and interior treatments and specification levels.

Next up will be the new generation UK-made Vivaro. This is due next year and could offer the tantalising post-Brexit prospect of the Peugeot Boxer and Citroën Dispatch rolling off the same production line in Luton.

Curtis Hutchinson
Curtis Hutchinson
Curtis Hutchinson is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and has been a senior motoring journalist for over 25 years. He has written extensively about the automotive industry as editor of both Company Car and Motor Trader where he won the coveted Newspress Business Publication of the Year Award. His work also appears in Fleet World and Fleet World International. In 2016 he was part of the founding team behind the relaunched London Motor Show.

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