Vauxhall lays bare the new Astra

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The Independent Online

On Friday, Vauxhall's troubled American parent General Motors emerged from bankruptcy protection in slimmed-down form. With fewer brands, fewer models, lots of US government money and a large stake for the United Autoworkers Union, GM hopes to operate more efficiently and respond more quickly to market conditions - in short, avoid the sorts of mistakes that got it into such a mess in the first place.

In the meantime, efforts to recruit a strategic investor to support GM's European operations - which consist mainly of Vauxhall in the UK and the Opel in other European countries - continue. The preferred bidder, the Canadian car component supplier, Magna, and its Russian backers haven't yet been able to finalise the deal and it is possible that other potential investors may now get their chance.

Whatever the outcome, the new Vauxhall/Opel Astra, expected to be launched formally at the forthcoming Frankfurt motor show (17 to 27 September), will be crucial to the future of GM in Europe, and in particular to the prospects of Vauxhall's main plant in the UK at Ellesmere Port on Merseyside, which will be the main initial production site for the car.

New pictures released in advance of the launch show the new car's fresh styling and also give away some of what's under the skin. The main point of technical interest lies in the continued use of a torsion beam rear suspension set-up; this arrangement is simpler than the multi-link rear suspension used by some competitors, but has the advantage of taking up little space. For the new Astra, it receives a so-called Watts linkage in order to improve the location of the rear wheels. While its use in the Astra is new, the Watts linkage has been used in cars for decades and is over 200 years old; it was originally devised by the great Scottish engineer James Watt as part of his work on pistons for steam engines.

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