Essay : I’m backing Britain (regardless of who owns what)
2015 promises to be a great year for Great Britain with record numbers of cars being built right here. Mike Humble shares a thought or two about getting behind the brands that create, design and build cars in the UK and spending less time knocking the parent companies or taking part in petty xenophobia…
Well, it looks like 2015 is hotting up to be a good year for British motor manufacturing, which can only be a good thing. Those clever folks up in the Midlands at Jaguar Land Rover have a spanking new engine plant on the outskirts of Wolverhampton – possibly the most recent automotive development there since the closure of Guy Motors. Obviously, the purpose of this is to wean the group away from the reliance of Ford-sourced powerunits in the long term but the £500m investment also shows the confidence of parent company Tata Motors in Blighty’s car workers.
Not only that, but we are soon to see the launch of the Discovery Sport and Jaguar’s rep-chasing XE so, despite what many may think, times have never been busier for the factories in the UK. Further down the pecking order our Anglo-Asian friends at Honda are building up steam for the launch of the face-lifted Civic and CR-V. Up on the Wirral, Vauxhall have recently produced the 5 millionth car at the Ellsemere Port plant and it’s also been confirmed that the up-coming new Astra will continue to be produced there despite tough competition from other worldwide GM plants.
It’s not because we are cheap, but it’s because we are efficient and damn good at what we do in terms of automotive engineering and design – something we ought to be vociferously proud about. And yet there is one thing that sticks in the throat like a bone from a Kipper, and that’s the reluctance for some people to just let go of certain aspects of automotive history. Jaguar Land Rover are Indian-owned while Honda, Nissan and Toyota are Japanese. Even MINI is in foreign ownership with its incumbency being German – and let’s be honest… and I mean brutally honest… do you think for one moment MG Rover could have done a better job with the MINI brand than BMW? Sorry, you won’t fool anyone else but yourself if you reckon so.
Being an Admin. on a small number of Facebook groups relating to motors, the same little snipes and brickbats fly around about who owns what in Great Britain – and I ask the question: Who Cares? Ask the lads and lasses and Cowley, Ellesmere Port, Solihull, Sunderland or Swindon who signs the wages cheque and I’ll bet you my last Rolo that noone cares… or, if they did, they are long past it. We had our day of running an automotive Empire and we cocked it up. The jury has been out for so many years now as to who or what destroyed our British-owned and British-run British motor industry – we all played our part, nothing more nothing less.
But 2015 marks a sad time in history. It will soon be 10 years since the death of MG Rover, but writing from first hand experience, it was terminally ill for a good few years before 2005. The issue is that many of the now defunct automotive names were run by people who had little experience or ability to run a car factory or safeguard its workforce. Also, our press did nothing to instil confidence in the potential customer – despite what you may think, people DO believe what they read in the papers. Customer loyalty simply dissolved but the arrogant attitude of top management back in the BL days thought that the customer would always stay loyal to Britain. How terribly wrong they were and from these times onwards, BL/ARG/Rover Group et all never really recovered.
Sir Michael Edwardes hit the nail on the head back in the 1970s when he said that “managers should reserve the right to manage” and that was the last time that real law and order almost won the day in our car plants. But I’m not singling out BL – MG Rover, the anarchy was rampant in all factories from Austin to Vauxhall in all fairness. By the time the workers had realised and smelt the coffee, it had gone cold and Mr Nissan and Mr Toyota showed the British buyer an amazing, never-been-seen-before trick – his car could, in fact, work properly on a cold winter’s morning. The same refusal to change, adapt and buck ideas up generally, happened in the 1960s with our motorbikes – nothing was learnt there either and by the time some order was established, there was no money to build or design a sustainable long-term future.
Let’s be brutally factual here, as a nation generally, we have shown the world countless times that we have not got a hope in hell of managing a volume automotive business to success and fruition, but, in recent years, we have built and designed some great cars. It makes no odds which nation owns the UK plants, or what they produce here – if it’s nailed together by British workers and designed by British engineers, what the hell matters otherwise? The Oxford-built MINI is an epic success story throughout the world and the Nissan Qashqai has gone on to sell more than 2 million units since 2007. To put things into perspective, Qashqai is the most successful Nissan ever produced, not the Micra, not the Cherry or the Bluebird. And where exactly was all this Nissan magic performed? Tokyo? Somewhere else in Japan? Some sterile Bavarian facility deep in the Black Forest? Nope… Cranfield in Bedfordshire.
Even right at the top of the tree with brands like Bentley and Rolls-Royce, demand is outstripping supply – in the case of Rolls especially, they have seen an upturn in sales of over 40 per cent from the previous year. Again, both of those brands are in European ownership but they are built here virtually by hand – do you think the Germans would accept anything less than total quality and ruthless efficiency? The days of lazy striking workers sitting on their backsides complaining about the quality of toilet paper are long gone, our men and women who build or supply to the motor trade are amongst, if not are, some of the very best on the planet.
It’s time to back Britain, for its finest hour is yet to come in automotive terms. The products we make are sold on a world platform, too. Did you know that over 80 per cent of UK-produced cars and trucks are exported? I for one am deeply proud of that fact. Of course, it’s good to celebrate and cherish the history of our automotive heritage and, yes, it is a shame that many once wonderful names or brands are now in foreign hands, but it’s time to move on and celebrate the hard fact that we are producing more cars in the UK than we have done in years. We employ some of the very best engineers and stylists in the world right here in Britain – many of them coaxed back to Blighty after running away from the crumbling automotive days of old.
This year is going to be a good year for our car plants and the hard grafting 760,000 British workers who either directly or through the supply or logistics chain make the magic happen – just watch this space.