John Bagshaw, one of the pivotal players in the recent history of Vauxhall Motors, passed away in his native Australia on June 8th 2012.
After serving in the Royal Australian Navy, John joined Holden in Western Australia in 1948, following his father, a dealership sales manager in Perth, into the car industry.
He moved to Holden’s headquarters in Melbourne and rose through the management ranks in sales and distribution before becoming sales director in 1972.
Leaving Australia in 1978, he worked overseas for nine years in corporate international marketing and for the Pontiac brand in Detroit, Michigan, as well as senior leadership positions with GM’s Vauxhall and Opel brands in Germany, eventually becoming Vauxhall managing director in February 1986.
However, his most important contribution to Vauxhall was as sales and marketing director when he turned round a declining sales trend and put Vauxhall back into profit.
In 1980 General Motors sold both Vauxhall and Opel cars through separate dealer networks. With Opel now firmly in charge of future product design the convergence of the Opel and Vauxhall product lines was causing tension, the two companies seemingly expending as much energy fighting each other as the true opposition.
Vauxhall share of market had fallen to 8 percent and Opel had only climbed to about 1.5 percent in the ten years of its existence. In 1980, John, known to all as “Bags”, was “parachuted” into Vauxhall by General Motors on what in retrospect was a fix it or close it mission.
At a meeting of the dealers of both franchises at the NEC in 1981 John announced that the franchises were to merge under one sales and marketing organisation based at Luton.
The dealer organisation was also heavily rationalized ahead of the critical launch of the J model Cavalier introduced later in 1981. Plainly aimed at Ford’s now aging Cortina it offered front wheel drive technology and was an instant hit, the Luton plant barely able to cope with demand from retail and fleet customers alike.
By 1983 the quarter millionth J Cavalier was produced and Vauxhall re-entered the small car market with the S model Nova, built in a state-of-the-art new plant in Spain.
In 1984 a new Astra model was launched.
Market share increased to a high of 16.6% in 1985 and in 1987 Vauxhall Motors Ltd returned to profit. After losses in 18 of the previous 19 years, General Motors were finally rewarded for sticking with the men of Luton and Ellesmere Port.
Although this turnaround had at its heart a series of model launches in the pipe-line before John’s arrival in the UK, it is a moot point as to how successful Vauxhall would have been in bringing them to market without John’s charismatic leadership, drive and energy.
In November 1987 John returned home as Holden MD, applying his skills for motivating and inspiring employees and marketing the brand and its products.