Vauxhall's new Astra on sale today

It should have been the first model launched by Vauxhall/Opel under the ownership of a new parent company, Magna. Instead, the new Astra, which goes on sale in the UK today, will be the centrepiece of General Motors' emerging turnaround plan for its European operations, after the US group decided to keep its British and German brands rather than selling them off.

The Astra is vital to the future of the UK motor industry, and in particular to the future of GM's main factory in this country, Ellesmere Port, which is the lead plant for the new car. So far the news has been good; Ellesmere Port's role in the production of the Astra means that it escapes the job cuts that every other GM plant in Europe is expected to suffer.

Every Astra, from the original 1979 model onwards has been a rebadged Opel model, rather than a UK-designed car, but the British end of GM can claim in one small way to have invented it; the cars we call Astras were badged as Opel Kadetts in continental Europe until the third-generation model of 1991, when the German end of GM decided to call its version Astra as well.

We'll have more detailed coverage of the new Astra, including driving impressions of a number of different variants, next week.

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