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Raise a glass in memory of Nick Reilly, a Vauxhall and automotive industry legend

Editor Paul Barker remembers Nick Rielly, a giant figure of the British and International car industry who sadly died on Friday

Nick Reilly standing next to an Opel Ampera

I was sad to hear about the recent passing of a genuine car industry powerhouse. Nick Reilly worked for General Motors for 37 years, most notably from a UK perspective as chairman and managing director of Vauxhall in the late 1990s. This followed four years in charge of the Ellesmere Port plant on Merseyside, and Nick would go on to head-up the Vauxhall/Opel European operation through a tumultuous period for the car industry, from 2009 through to his 2012 retirement. 

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In this job you get to witness, meet and chat to the big names in the automotive industry, and some major leaders convey an aura that makes you instantly aware that they’re a different breed. They have the ability to command a room before they’ve even said anything.  

That’s a quality I’d definitely attribute to Reilly, who is credited with a turnaround of GM Europe’s operations as it came out of the early 2000s recession. He led various elements of the US giant - be they in the UK, Korea or Europe-wide - with drive and assurance, combined with humility and the ability to inspire those that worked for him. 

He was also a massive ambassador for the British car industry, and reportedly gave up a £160,000 basic salary during his fight to keep Vauxhall’s plants in Luton and Merseyside open. 

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The Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Mike Hawes, described Nick Reilly as one of the leading global auto industry figures. “He was always incredibly insightful, able to boil complex problems into simple questions, something he did with patience and good humour.” 

For a UK exec to rise to the top echelons of one of the world’s biggest car companies, and to stay there for such a long time, speaks volumes for his skill and aptitude, for the car industry and for leading people. A proud Welsh rugby fan, many of the tributes that came out in the days following his passing highlighted a combination of inspirational leadership skills and being able to find time for, and relate to, everyone he encountered. The latter is something I experienced first hand when he was running GM Europe. 

Among his many achievements in this long car industry career, Nick Reilly was instrumental in guiding Vauxhall and its two UK plants in particular - which are still going strong in part thanks to his determination and management - through rocky times. His status as one of the UK’s powerhouse automotive leaders is assured and we’d like to extend the condolences of everyone at Auto Express to his family and friends. 

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As Editor, Paul’s job is to steer the talented group of people that work across Auto Express, Carbuyer and Driving Electric, and steer the titles to even bigger and better things by bringing the latest important stories to our readers. Paul has been writing about cars and the car industry since 2000, working for consumer and business magazines as well as freelancing for national newspapers, industry titles and a host of major publications.

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