A visit to Vauxhall Motors
When correspondence appeared last year in Motor Sport criticising the Vauxhall Victor and Vauxhall's after-sales service the men in command at Luton were not so much angry as sad. Sad because they realise that no car is perfect and for this reason operate what they consider to be one of the most efficient dealer-liaison and after-sales-service systems in operation anywhere in the world.
Instead of taking umbrage that these letters had been published and washing his hands of us, Michael Marr, the popular Publicity Manager of Vauxhall Motors, invited us to visit Luton to see the after-sales service section for ourselves.
At Luton we were introduced to Mr. T. T. Brown, the Service Manager, and Mr. H. A. Noakes of the Customer Relations Division, who gave us an insight into the conscientious attempts made at Luton to give Vauxhall and Bedford Owners every satisfaction.
For example, adopting as their slogan, "Good Service Builds Goodwill, Goodwill sells Vehicles," Vauxhall Motors have established an elaborate organisation for dealing with complaints through their dealers. Dealers' Service Conferences are held frequently, at which dealers are addressed by Mr. Brown, Mr. Noakes, Mr. L. M. Bouch, of Product Quality, Mr. L. V. Cooper, Manager of the Business Management Division, Mr. R. D. Winup, Manager of the Service Methods Division and Mr. L. Hott, Foreman of the Service Station, after which the dealers' questions are answered. In this way every aspect of customer relations and correct servicing of Vauxhall and Bedford vehicles is covered.
A staggering number of beautilfully-produced specialised publications is available to dealers, such as reports of the Service Conferences, Apprentices' Report Books, Guides to Good Reception of Customers, Planned Customer Follow, Accountancy of Time and Repair Order, apart from cartoons and leaflets emphasising particular if minor aspects of customer relationship, servicing bulletins and books, an account of the tension method of body repair, and so on and so forth. Vauxhall Motors' printing bill must be prodigious!
We learnt that if a dealer finds a fault in a car he is permitted to spend up to £15 per vehicle on rectification of manufacturing defects within the first six months without consulting the factory, including labour costs. During the next six months dealers are supplied free with parts and may receive a proportion of their labour costs.
There are twelve Dealer Clubs which meet four times a year, while in 1959 twelve Service Conferences will be held around the country, including two at the Connaught Rooms in London— in spite of the latter attraction the writer has come to the conclusion that running a Vauxhall dealership satisfactorily is a terribly complex job and that he prefers writing almost the entire contents of each issue of this journal to attempting it! The complexity is aimed at satisfying the man who matters most, the Vauxhall owner, and the system includes efficient follow-up of complaints, the dealer being expected to take action within 24 hours of a complaint reaching Luton, a follow-up being sent to the dealer in seven days if the complaint hasn't been cleared. If there is still no result the Field Division is called in through the appropriate dealer. All complaints are dealt with on standardised forms, and the history of every individual car is kept. A very important aspect of the Vauxhall System is that a code record of every defect is made and thus any trouble which is of abnormal frequently can be investigated in the factory before it becomes widespread.
In their attempt to provide their dealers with every possible aid Vauxhall Motors operate a school for dealers' mechanics which must be the envy of many technical colleges. Here, in a week. every servicing aspect of Vauxhall and Bedford vehicles is investigated in practical demonstration by skilled tutors.
Vauxhall mechanics are encouraged to cut down on the standard time for given repair jobs by receiving a bonus for minutes saved but skimping is obviated because a faulty job has to be rectified in their own time. Vauxhall advise dealers in respect of the merits and demerits of items of workshop and garage equipment, provide special tools and even plan the best layout for individual showrooms and workshops.
The American-style efficiency which pervades the great Luton factory is reflected in the printing of the names of visiting V.I.P.s on folders handed to them, while their cars, of whatever make, are likely to be whisked away and beautifully cleaned; incidentally, they are asked to submit to being photographed holding their national flag and although visitors arrive front every quarter of the globe, Luton is never without the appropriate colours.
From questions put to Luton by Vauxhall dealers it is clearly, evident how aware they are of defects in design and manufacture, how alive they are to servicing problems. One dealer even raised the matter of preparation of Press road-test cars, having noticed adverse write-ups of the Victor in The Autocar and the Star. Such close liaison between manufacturer and dealer, and dealer and customer should certainly gain the reward it is aimed to reap and last year production reached a record total of 174,616 vehicles, of which 119,177 were cars. Exports represented 59 per cent, of the total, the highest since 1953 and included 21,048 Victors shipped to America, compared with 4,607 in 1957.
Vauxhall not only possess their own proving ground in this country but are already making extensive use of a new ten-acre materials testing field opened by General Motors Corporation two months ago in Florida. Replacing a test base founded in 1930, the field is used for weather-testing paint finishes, metals, plated parts. plastics and upholstery fabrics. The new test field can deal with 2,000 various samples a month. A 10,000 sq. ft. building contains a laboratory, photographic dark room, paint spray booth, humidity and instrument rooms, and offices. Outside, there is accommodation for 5,000 paint panel samples on portable open-air racks. Fifteen 50-ft. racks are maintained under glass for the exposure of those interior items of the car which are not normally subjected to rainfall.
Vauxhall are sending samples both of projected materials and current production items for assessment in Florida. Paint and other manufacturers who supply the company also avail themselves, through Vauxhall's manufacturing research division, of the test field facilities, which supplement the existing weathering station at Chaul End, Beds., and the other testing facilities maintained by the company in this country. These include a humidity room, where the reaction of trim materials, adhesives, and painted panels to very humid conditions is examined, and a cold room, large enough to accommodate a complete vehicle, which provides information on the performance of materials when subjected to prolonged sub-zero temperatures. The laboratory also houses equipment which simulates sunlight by the use of powerful ultra-violet ray arc lights. In this machine samples of paint materials applied to sheet steel panels are moved continuously through water sprays and past the ultra-violet lamps for a prescribed period of time. With its aid the basic quality of a new paint finish can be assessed quickly prior to more prolonged testing under the conditions of strong sunlight and a salt-laden humid atmosphere found in Florida.
In order to expand the original Vauxhall factory at Luton millions of tons of earth havebeen removed to form semi-underground assembly shops, in the shadow of the plateau which is Luton Airport.
From here vehicles for N. Ireland are flown off in a Bristol Freighter. But Vauxhall executives, in spite of this convenient airfield, do not use private aeroplanes, finding road travel more economical. Mr. T. T. Brown has travelled the world and talks soberly of traffic conditions in many countries; he also remembers the old Vauxhall days and at lunch told us that some 14/40 Vauxhalls were made with pre-selector gearboxes, which was news to us.
To go over the vast Luton plant would take days but we were able to see one unique aspect of their assembly system. Complete body sides are held to the chassis base by giant automatic jigs, which ensure ease of operation and accuracy in spot welding. Very impressive is the new press shop. So often the press shop is like a museum of various makes and ages of presses but in the new Luton shop battery upon battery of British Clearing presses stand in orderly lines, spacious passage ways between them, and the roof girders picked out in pleasing colours. Here, too, are the fantastic Schuler automatic transfer sheet-metal presses, three in number, which are fed with rolls of sheet steel and turn out all the small metal parts, such as hub centres, clutch plates, etc., needed in the factory. After the dies have been set to produce the part needed for a given run the operation is fully automatic, from rolled sheet to finished pressing. Vauxhall do not, however, have a foundry of their own.
One of the early troubles with the Victor was leakage of rain into the body. Vauxhall now possess a most elaborate water testing plant. Every car produced goes slowly through a long spray tunnel in which water is blown forcibly from all angles onto the body while an observer within looks for leaks. Any defects are corrected and another check made, hoses being turned on any specially suspect places.
Equally elaborate is the final finishing shop, where a real attempt is being made to obviate obvious paint and trim faults which have been afflicting Victor, Velez and Cresta cars. Engines are motored-in electrically, so that running-in restrictions do not apply to Vauxhall cars and every so often an engine is submitted to bench testing. Complete cars are run on rollers for final adjustment but are not normally road-tested. At Luton a variety of tyres are fitted, Goodyear, U.S. Royal, Michelin, Avon and Firestone, arriving at the assembly lines.
During the time of our visit to Vauxhall Motors we were able to sample a Vauxhall Victor estate car, not as a "bribe" because it was borrowed indirectly and not at Mr. Marr's suggestion. In a week it carried the writer 1,190 miles and was used for all manner of domestic carrying chores. This Victor has some very good features, which include provision of a water thermometer, decimal mileage recorder, two-speed self-parking wipers, rheostat panel lighting, twin vizors, 1/4-windows with thief-proof catches and rain drains, exterior mirror, door arm-rests and tubeless tyres, which show a commendable refusal to "skimp" over accessories in this inexpensive car. The grouping of ignition key-curn-starter, wiper-cum-washers knob and lighting-switch convenient to the driver's right hand is excellent, as is control of interior lighting from the lamps switch. There is an almost too-deep cubby hole, sill locks for the four doors, an efficient but irritatingly insensitive heater with very loud two-speed fan, and quick-action window handles. The steering-column gear change works very nicely of its kind, the lever having small movements and selecting precisely, aided by good synchromesh. The three speed gearbox is rendered acceptable to ordinary motorists by the flexibility of the engine and synchromesh on first gear. Opposite this right-hand gear lever is a stalk for operating the sensibly self-cancelling direction-indicators, the position and action of which couldn't be improved.
This six-seater four-door station wagon has an easy-to-fold, splendidly-arranged back seat which, stowed, presents a huge area of flat carrying space, the spare wheel scarcely impeding this as it is carried vertically, while the lift-up back door provides for exceptionally easy loading.
Add pleasant, powerful vice-free brakes, good road-holding, nice, light steering, the metal wheel having good finger grips, and an engine which starts instantly in the English winter and this Victor estate car represents sound value at the basic price of £931 7s. 0d., inclusive of purchase tax.
It has shortcomings, of course, such as an unpleasant resonance at 60 m.p.h., dangerously restricted visibility in rain because the wipers leave a central unswept area on the screen, a not entirely comfortable bench front seat, reluctant-to-close doors, the ugly, uninspired appearance, sharp-edged interior door handles, too-bright flasher warning-lights, and that lethal-to-the-knees wrap-round screen. The petrol filler is recessed under a flap so that it cannot be filled even from a jerry can.
On the whole, however, this is an excellent and universally useful car. It gave an average of 33.8 m.p.g. of good petrol, some of the driving being restrained, due to icy roads, and required three pints of oil in 1,000 miles, with no loss of water. The only defect was a puncture but as tubeless tyres are fitted, this did not occasion stopping on the road. The car tested had certain extras, inflating the total price to £980.