News : January 2005

British car exports hit high to offset dip at home…

25 January 2005

By John Cranage, Birmingham Post

THE UK car industry exported a record number of vehicles in 2004, according to industry statistics. Output for export rose by three per cent to 1.179 million units, trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said yesterday. The rise helped to offset a nine per cent per cent dip in production for the home market.

The figures mean that seven out of every ten cars built in the UK are now exported, Christopher Macgowan, chief executive of the SMMT, said. The industry narrowly missed another record year for UK registrations in 2004 when demand dipped in December. “Stability has returned to the car production landscape in the last few years,” said Mr Macgowan.

“The total volumes have remained steady at around 1.65 million units, although output for export has been rising steadily and is now running at record levels.” Speaking at the SMMT’s annual press conference in London yesterday, Mr Macgowan went on to warn that the industry was now having to absorb major increases in the prices of steel – which has rocketed by 30 per cent – and oil.

“The UK hosts some of the most productive car plants in Europe, but rising raw material and fuel costs, as well as unfavourable exchange rates, play their part in threatening future prosperity particularly of companies in the supply chain.”

Mr Macgowan went on to predict a bright future for MG Rover and its proposed alliance with China’s Shanghai Automotive. Pre-Millennium predictions of a global shake out of the automotive industry leaving just six companies – two in north America, two in Europe and two in Japan – were proving wrong, he said. While there is likely to be some further consolidation within the industry, such as a possible takeover of Fiat by General Motors, the market was proving itself capable of also supporting niche manufacturers as well as global giants such as GM, Ford and Toyota.

“While the big players are now absolutely colossal, there is a bright future for manufacturers of high quality cars,” said Mr Macgowan.

“I think that what MG Rover is doing in spreading its MG and Rover brands apart is a good example of this.

“The MG brand, particularly, should have a very good future, particularly if the joint venture with Shanghai Automotive is blessed in China.” Graham Broome, chief executive of the SMMT’s Industry Forum, a Birmingham-based organisation dedicated to helping the industry cut costs and improve quality, said the sector still had a lot of challenges to face, especially from increasing globalisation.

“We have a greater need than ever to ensure that UK companies improve their productivity and competitiveness.”

Although production levels of commercial vehicles (CV) fell 12.7 per cent in December 2004 compared with the same month in 2003, the 2004 full-year CV total, at 209,293, was 10.8 per cent up on the 2003 total.

As with car production, the export market far outperformed the home market for CV production. CVs made for export leapt 24.5 per cent ahead in 2004 to 128,107, while home CV production dipped 5.5 per cent to 81,186.

Austin-Healey debate rumbles on…

22 January 2005

Project Warwick – the Austin-Healey revival penned in the UK during the BMW era. It seems as though MGR is reviewing the Austin-Healey yet again… (Picture: AutoExpress)

FOLLOWING several press reports recently, it seems interest at Longbridge in the Austin-Healey project is on the up again. Several sources have confirmed the project, which more than any other seems to enjoy being taken off the shelf, dusted off, and reviewed, only to be put back again, may well be under review right now.

The structure of the deal is unknown right now, but informed speculation points to a Phoenix (as opposed to MGR) run venture, which would not be linked to the MGR/SAIC joint-venture company.

Project Warwick dates back to the BMW era, and was the first serious attempt at a new Big Healey since the Eighties, but was eventually quashed following a misunderstanding over rights ownership to the Austin-Healey name. More recently, Phoenix/MGR looked into the plan, possibly taking over another UK-based specialist sports car manufacturer, such as Jensen or Lea-Francis, with the idea of revamping the project and re-launching under a new ‘old’ name.

Of course, if one source is to be believed – you can buy a brand new Austin-Healey today. It’s called the BMW Z4. Ever wondered why that car was six-cylinder only? Because, perhaps, it was intended to be called something else.

Now there’s food for thought…

Keith Adams

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