Sunday, July 11, 2021


he British car company Vauxhall has announced that their Ellesmere Port factory, currently building the Astra hatchback, will switch to producing electric vans, securing jobs in the north of England. Its parent company also announced that all new Vauxhall vehicles will be electric-only from 2028, ahead of other brands in the group.

I then remembered the name of the group is “Stellantis”. When I first saw this name, it may as well have said the Tyrrell Corporation, Cyberdyne or Stark Industries, for a name like “Stellantis” sounds like a fictional mega-corporation that has its fingers in everything, one of which just happens to be cars. Basing its headquarters in the Netherlands, where it has no factories, doesn’t help matters.

Stellantis was created in January 2021 when the shareholders of two enormous car companies voted to merge. FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) was originally to have merged with Renault Group, but this stalled due to the potential impact on Nissan, which is partly owned by Renault. FCA then approached Groupe PSA, renamed from PSA Peugeot Citroën in 2017. PSA had bought Vauxhall and Opel in 2016 from General Motors (GM), which had owned them since the 1920s – this happened following the financial crisis in 2008-10, where the bailing out of both GM and Chrysler by the United States government eventually led to both the downsizing of GM, and Fiat’s buyout of Chrysler.

Perhaps it is easier to choose a neutral name. The Latin verb “stello,” meaning to cover with stars or points of light, is meant to evoke the French and Italian roots of the company, its multitude of brands acting like the film studio’s MGM boast of “more stars than there are in heaven” – I guess “antis” is meant to be the transatlantic connection through Chrysler. 

However, this multitude of names begs the question of why so many names are being maintained. GM represents only four brands these days, each pitched to certain buyers – Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC – which share a few platforms to rationalise production among its different models. Brands that either overlapped with each other or had become unfashionable, like Plymouth, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn and Hummer, have all been discarded.

Stellantis is ultimately planning to have only four electric car platforms on which to build multiple ranges of potentially completing vehicles. Before the mergers that created, Vauxhall was in competition with Peugeot as much as with Fiat, just as Citroën may complete with Lancia, let alone Vauxhall cars having been rebadged Opel models for decades. Add into these the extra performance of luxury spin-off brands built up over time, like Chrysler’s Ram and Citroën’s DS, and you start to wonder which of these could become the next Oldsmobile.

As the automotive industry adapts to survive the forced death of petrol and diesel engines, the need for established names to reinvent themselves has accelerated with the rise of new brands more closely associated with electric cars from the start, like Tesla and Polestar. The creation of Stellantis may not be the last consolidation in the industry as a result, but it may remain the one with the most sinister-sounding name.

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