Well, that was an amazing year, and one we’re unlikely to forget for quite some time to come. And true to form AROnline looks back at the high- and low-lights of the year, as well as awarding the best of them.
There are no prizes, of course, other than the joy of knowing you’ve been recognised by the Internet’s best community of knowledgeable enthusiasts. By Keith Adams.
2011 in review
In January, we became all excited about the return of the Jensen Interceptor, thanks to JIA’s relaunch of this fantastic Anglo-Italian GT. As the year progressed, though, it soon became clear that there was added complication to the story, with CPP’s similarly named new Jensen, slated for launch sometime after never, but in a truly sensible act, JIA ended up partnering the UK’s best Jensen business, Cropredy Bridge to create something resembling a viable and going concern that should maintain Jensen’s place in British automotive history.
February saw a bunch of hardy UK journalists trek up to Longbridge to see the first MG6 roll off the line, as well as get a first hand look at the Technical Development Centre – and if there was any doubt in our minds that SAIC wasn’t treating its Birmingham factory seriously, then a look at the impressive new facility was proof enough that the ambitious Chinese company was committed to make its cars more Euro-friendly. The Geneva motor show was also a delight for Brit car fans, with the unveiling of the bonkers Morgan 3Wheeler, the supercar-slaying Jaguar XKR-S and bafflingly-named MINI Rocketman. And we loved all three!
Getting behind the wheel of the MG6 was a highlight of March, with a long run around Central England convincing us that the Chinese-UK alliance has come up with a highly competitive car with something approaching class-leading dynamics. Returning home from Longbridge, it was hard to escape the conclusion that this could well be the start of something very big indeed… and this wasn’t just AROnline‘s biased opinion. But was this conclusion too much? ‘the MG6 is a very good driver’s car, and one that the British Engineers, Designers and – yes – Assembly Line workers should be very proud of.’ Evidently, if total sales are to be believed.
Sadly, Bristol Cars went into administration, and AROnline‘s spoof bid for the company certainly generated interest. But alas, we were about £10m short. But this fiction was somewhat upstaged by Lotus’ tug-of-love F1 custody battle. The only winner of that one emerged the lawyers.
The Jaguar XF was the star of April after a light-handed nip and tuck (fixing the ills of the original car, and turning it into the C-XF for the road we all wanted), finally received its four-pot diesel in order to go fighting the 2-litre dominant German triumvirate of BMW 520d, Audi A6 TDI and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. And you know what – it was good enough to stand toe-to-toe with them. Well done Jaguar! It was also great to see Bristol bought by Frazer-Nash, who announced an exciting electrically powered future, and MINI having the confidence to have a go at selling a £40K Goodwood version of its R56. Finally, we had our first sight of MG’s UK styled Concept 5… and how we waited for what was hoped to be an exciting production counterpart later in the year. Hmm.
May was quiet for us – probably because we were taken off the air by our previous Internet hosts. Why? Too many people were reading us. But after that online/offline hiccough, we were around to feel pleased by the Phoenix 4’s disqualification from being able to serve as company directors. Scant justice for the Longbridge workers and their families… but it was a start.
British car manufacturing was at the centre of attention from June, first with the announcement that JLR would be opening a new engine factory in the West Midlands, and the expansion of MINI production and jobs at Oxford. Later expansion at Toyota certainly bode well for UK PLC. We also got our hands on the Jaguar XKR-S for the first time. Conclusion? ‘The XKR-S’s toughest challenge is, in fact, the XKR – that comes in at a £20k saving and might be less offensive to the sensibilities of shrinking violets out there. That, though, is really a sign of just how complete a car the fast XK is. Truly, it’s a British car to be proud of. We love it.’
June was all about birthday celebrations – Rolls-Royce did the centenary thing beautifully, while the Jaguar E-type strutted its stuff throughout the year by way of the 50th anniversary of its Geneva launch. The sporting Jaguar was a thing of beauty – sublime beauty – but as the year wore on, the strange phenomenon of E-type fatigue set-in. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again in 2012 with the MGB… the Lotus Elan… the BMC 1100… the Ford Cortina.
The world’s press finally got their hands on the super-sexy Range Rover Evoque in July and came to some remarkable conclusions. Yes, it was expensive, but worth it. Car magazine, ‘The Evoque looks sensational and is genuinely good fun to drive. It’s too expensive, but we can’t imagine that getting in the way of sales success.’ Auto Express: ‘We expect most buyers to spend at least £35,000 on their Evoque. However, this is the coolest, most desirable car of 2011. And every inch a proper Range Rover.’ The Car of The Year awards soon followed…
While the UK rioted in August, MG unveiled a crossover variant of its promising MG3 supermini, recalling memories of the innovative Rover Streetwise. Clearly, it’s a concept that works – in China, the previous MG3 – a rebadged Streetwise – has proved a surprising sales success, and SAIC wants more. During the summer and autumn months, MG Motor UK began pushing the 6 across the country – not in a carpet bombing of Internet, TV and magazine marketing, but in the UK’s shopping centres.
September was the month of concepts, with both the sublime Jaguar C-X16 and Land Rover DC100 stealing the show at Frankfurt. Both were conceived with the task of replacing iconic vehicles in mind – the E-type and Defender – and both met with with critical acclaim. Later announcements from Jaguar and Land Rover that they would be going into production were far from surprising – although continued production of the Defender beyond 2015 (and alongside the DC100) is seriously being considered within Gaydon.
Frontline’s wonderful MGB LE50 was unveiled for the first time in October, just in time for 2012’s anniversary celebrations. If proof were needed that the evergreen classic from Abingdon was just as relevant now as it was in 1962, then this £50,000 reboot provides it in classic British green.
November‘s sad news was the failure of the MG6 to generate serious sales in the UK. September and October SMMT figures were little short of a disaster, and were far from being a reflection of the car’s competence. The engineers, designers and assembly workers at Longbridge will no doubt be hoping that 2012’s influx of new models (and diesels) will turn round MG Motor UK’s fortunes dramatically. But it was far from bad news elsewhere, as the first images of the MG5 came in from China, and revealed a promising five-door Ford Focus rival – no doubt we’ll hear more in 2012.
The rest of the month saw Jaguar cross the USA in an XF 2.2D, averaging well over 60mpg in the process, while the original R56-based MINI range saw its final variations roll out of Cowley – the Coupe and Roadster. EuroNCAP also proved the Range Rover Evoque to be a five-star car, and the Jaguar XF and MG6 as solid four-star efforts. Actually the former result has generated criticism in European markets where all of its rivals have five-stars; and the latter showed that Chinese manufacturers have learned a great deal about passive safety in a very short time.
And as we reflect the best and worst of 2011 as December comes to a close, it’s clear the year has been an exciting one for the British car industry. We’re on the brink of another global economic crisis, that could have disastrous consequences for the Euro – but at the very least, we’re producing the most desirable cars in a generation, be them by UK or Foreign-owned companies… It’s fitting that 2011 also marked the 25th anniversary of the opening of Nissan’s factory in Washington – that company has gone from strength to strength here, as have Honda and Toyota, and the solid sales of the UK designed, developed and built Qashqai and Juke show just how the UK remains an important hub in an increasingly international business.
Let’s hope our success continues – and MG turns things around – in 2012.