The New Astra Range of Hatchbacks

While Ford is suffering problems on all sides, Vauxhall is very definitely the marquee of the moment in the fleet car business. The Cavalier, introduced three years ago, has hit its peak and is doing serious sales damage to the Ford Sierra, now past its best. Last year the Vauxhall took over from the Ford as the country's best selling company car, and things don't look like changing until the new Sierra appears in 1993. If Ford expected reinforcements to arrive in the form of extra sales for the new Escort, it has been disappointed: the car was roundly criticized at its launch for its dullness. (To be fair, however, it is still number three in the fleet sales chart.)

Ford was also badly wrong-footed by the EC's decision to impose exhaust emission regulations that demand catalysts from 1993. Its new Zeta engine had to be delayed and was not ready for the launch of the
Escort, which has had to make do with the outclassed CVH units for this year. Nor did the knowledge that the car was to be re-engined help first-year sales. But worse it expects to become the company’s best-selling model and a real Escort rival - something the old Astra never managed.

The new Astra range of hatchbacks, estates and saloons is roomy and extremely refined. Vauxhall also seems to have caught the spirit of the age better than Ford. All Astra models save the diesel (which doesn't need one) have catalysts - a year ahead of legislation and they also boast unique safety features for the class, including seat-belt pre-pensioners, which reduce the risk of head injury in a major accident and side impact beams, which strengthen the car in the event of a sideways-on collision.

Topically, Vauxhall is also combating car crime on the Astra with deadlocks on the doors and a radio / cassette whose display panel is remote from the unit's works, effectively rendering it useless if stolen. To add to Ford's troubles, Vauxhall has the pretty looking Calibra - a coupe which has had no rivals (save those from Japan) since Ford killed the Capri without a successor. Perhaps not strictly a fleet car, the Calibra is still a tempting alternative to those with enough user-chooser clout.

In the short term, prospects look bleak for Ford. it still has the largest share of UK new car sales, but has lost a significant percentage of that share in the last three years to Vauxhall, Rover and the crop of smaller importers. Doubtless it will bounce back, especially if the Zeta-engined Escorts prove good, but will it ever rebound to its previous pre-eminence?

The third member of the Big Four is Rover. Under the ownership of British Aerospace, it can claim to be the most British of them all - though Honda has a minority stake in the company and a majority stake in product development all current generation Rovers bar the Metro are shared ventures with the Japanese firm. Rover has consciously tried to pull itself up-market and away from the rough and tumble of discounting engaged in by Ford and Vauxhall. Even so, it maintained market share during 1991. Its best seller to companies sis the stylish little Rover 200 / 400, sixth best in the fleet sales charts, with the Metro close behind at seventh during most of 1991 (two slots behind its baby car rival, the Ford Fiesta).
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