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Vivaro van-tastic boost for UK Vauxhall plant 

I spent a few hours picking up cross members and seats during my stint as a van driver recently but this wasn’t a job switch for me.

The reason for me joining the white van brigade was to test out the new Vauxhall – Opel in Tenerife – Vivaro.

I don’t go along to too many van launches but this is a HUGE one for the Luton manufacturing team.

All Vauxhall/Opel Vivaro vans for the European market – with the exception of a small proportion of taller models – will be built at the UK plant.

And that is a massive boost for the 1,200 workers whose jobs are now secured for the next 10 years.

It’s also a big lift for suppliers with 40 per cent of parts sourced locally.

I had a quick tour of Dunstable-based Magna Seating – while my van was being loaded – and learned that this firm will almost double its workforce as it moves on to two shifts to fulfil the order for Vivaro seats.

Back at the plant, my visit coincided with General Motors president Dan Am-mann being there.

He’s responsible for managing GM’s regional operations around the world and told me: “From a GM perspective we are very positive about what is happening in the UK.

“It’s been a challenging few years but we feel we are heading in the right direction.”

Producing the new Vivaro is a major coup for the Luton workforce with the £185million 10-years’ investment coming after it beat world-class competition from across Europe to build it.

It’s a well-deserved reward after receiving a top Level 4 Built in Quality award – one of only three vehicle-manufac-turing sites to gain this out of 396 GM facilities worldwide and the only one outside of Japan.

They obviously do what they do well at Luton where they’ve been building vehicles since 1905 and the Vivaro panel vans since 2001 – just short of a million of these leaving the production line.

The model has been a big success and 45,000 were sold across Europe last year – 18,000 of these in the UK.

The Vivaro is a popular choice for sole traders to large fleets where customers include Royal Mail, Sky, British Gas and the AA.

And the new arrival has even more to offer – and also costs less.

There are two trims – standard and Sportive – with prices ranging from £17,995 – £450 less than the outgoing model – to £23,145.

They come with a choice of four new 1.6-litre turbo diesel engines with power output ranging from 89bhp to 138bhp and offering increased performance and efficiency.

Production starts in August with buyers taking delivery from September 6 and I was one of the first to drive a new pre-production model on British roads.

My drive was in a white van – although the new models are available in 11 standard colours.

I didn’t expect the vehicle to draw too much attention but one van driver was so impressed he decided to put his foot down and exceed the 70mph speed limit to overtake me and allow his passenger to snap some pictures.

As vans go, the Vivaro is one of the tops for style with its robust front appearance and blade feature flowing from under the side mirrors to the rear wheel arches similar to Insignia models.

Not being a regular van driver, I couldn’t really compare this one to competitors, but thought it performed pretty well.

I was driving a 1.6CDTi BiTurbo 120 start/stop ecoFlex model, priced at £21,583.

Ride comfort and handling were similar to that of a passenger car and the 118bhp twin-turbo engine proved to have plenty of power for smart acceleration going up through a slick-moving six-speed manual gearbox.

My pick-up route took me along some potholed, country roads but the ride was never too bumpy thanks to the upgraded suspension system.

High-mileage drivers will also be impressed by super fuel consumption figures which on this model are 47.9mpg on the combined cycle.

The interior trim level has been upped and again of a quality that allows car-like comfort.

There are lots of stowage spaces in the cabin that also features a centre front seat that can be transformed into a desk with space for a laptop – making the Vivaro a mobile office as well.

A selection of infotainment systems with functions such as radio, phone and navigation is also available.

The Vivaro’s main purpose is being a workhorse with the practical cubic design load area retained and hatches in the base of the cabin bulkhead below the front bench seat allowing items as long as 4.15 metres to be loaded.

Vauxhall’s Luton facility is the sole UK van manufacturing plant and it looks in extremely good health for the years ahead with new Vivaro sales expected to soar in Europe.

I was also treated to an amazing display of van driving by Paul Swift during my visit to the plant and the video on YouTube is well worth a visit – check it out at www.you-tube.com/watch?v=7r5Fyz-PX3W8.