The half-yearly returns from the industry’s trade group, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), show that new car sales of 1.4 million are the second best ever. However, in April, May and June sales fell dramatically.
This slump is almost all due to a distrust in buying a car with a diesel engine. For example, in June, sales of petrol cars rose 2.5 per cent and hybrid and other alternative power sources rose by 29 per cent. Diesel car sales dived by 14.7 per cent. That’s also a blow to confidence in buying a second-hand diesel car.
All this can be traced first to the so-called manipulation, most notably by the Volkswagen Group, of the official fuel and emissions figures for its diesel cars. Customer dissatisfaction persists. Then came a tougher stance on diesel engine pollution – including from relatively new models. Note that the industry claims a clean bill of health for its latest diesel cars. This still leaves a tingling “what if?” uncertainty for buyers and the likelihood that more cities will penalise or ban entry of many diesel cars (and other diesel vehicles).
The June sales figures show that only two major sectors of the market are buoyant. The SMMT said: “Compact cars, typically powered by smaller petrol engines, proved most popular for all buyers, with superminis and small family cars accounting for almost 60 per cent of the market. Small family cars and SUVs were the only two segments to register growth in June.”
The bestsellers this year support this, with the Top Ten populated by cars like the Fiesta and Astra, one SUV-type in the Qashqai, plus the Mini, and the C-Class and A-Class from Mercedes-Benz showing demand for prestige.
So, to this week’s drive. Vauxhall has replaced its largest car, the Insignia, with the Insignia Grand Sport five-door lift back, a Sports Tourer estate and, on the way, an all-roader 4x4 estate called Country-Tourer.
Tried here is the coupé-like Grand Sport, a car with an elegance which had other motorists stopping for a look. Indeed, one joined me in a lay-by where I was loading something or other. Help. Had I cut him up? No, he was an Insignia owner and this was the first new one he’d seen. I answered his questions and comments to the best of my ability without wanting to become an unpaid car vendor and he set off back to Morecambe to place an order.
If you drive this sort of car you are in a diminishing profile in most of Europe. Private buyers are settling on smaller cars than the Mondeo/Passat/Insignia, or going for some family fun with a variety of SUVs. Residual values for the Mondeo man don’t match what he’d get with a BMW, Audi or Mercedes. They cost more but retain a higher value and the drip-feed of payment plans means not having to find £25,000 in notes. Then there’s the growing impact from Volvo, which is living up to its Latin meaning under Chinese ownership. It has announced the imminent end of any new car which does not have some battery assistance.
Vauxhall sales slumped 15.4 per cent in the first half year – it was not alone in big falls (50 per cent for Jeep, 45 per cent for Citroën’s DS brand) but ominously its rival Ford beat the malaise with a 12 points rise.
This year Vauxhall has several new models, including three heavily modelled on Groupe PSA’s Peugeot, which is taking over Vauxhall and its GM Opel sister brand in Germany.
Grand Insignia has no such French genes. It looks like being the last “Vauxhall” made under GM control. It’s a handsome car and really nice to use. A weight reduction of at least 175kg equals more than three sacks of coal which the engine is not lugging up glen and dale.
There is plenty of passenger space and lots left over for luggage, or, indeed, three or four bags of nutty slack.
Prices start at a tempting £17,115 using a new 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine which addresses the move away from diesel. Using latest technology it produces 138bhp with ratings of 47.6mpg and 133g of CO2. (Sport Tourer prices open at £18,615). There are several trim levels, some competitive diesels and 4x4 traction on the 256bhp 2-litre petrol range topper.
Vauxhall claims best in class business running costs for its diesels – still apparently favoured by “fleet” operators.
My demo car was in semi sporting SRi Nav VXLIne specification which has sports front seats, a rear lip on the tailgate, 18-inch wheels, dual zone climate control and sports foot pedals – actually metal surfaces on rubber pads, one of which came off. With a 168bhp high torque 2-litre diesel it costs from £23,730.
It had cameras at the front and rear, tyre pressure monitoring (it arrived lopsided). Even without various extras (eg head-up display at £290, matrix headlamps of £1,010) I felt it would do very nicely.
That old black diesel magic gave cosseting acceleration. The navigation was street-perfect.
Verdict: A real contender in its class. Lovely to drive.