Opinion : I can explain everything – no, actually I can’t…

British car industry

The title is a line from Father Ted, where the glib and wily priest tries to extricate himself from an embarrassing situation, then realises the impossibility of the task.

It could equally apply to understanding quite why, at the start of 2023, the UK is in the position of not having an indigenous large-volume car manufacturer. Anyone who has, as I have, witnessed the unfolding tragedy, the cycle of hope and despair, from the formation of BMH onwards could easily dismiss the saga as an epic lost cause, but there’s surely far more to this than casually accepting the inevitability of the descent into either oblivion or foreign ownership.

Germany has three major domestically-owned manufacturers and France has two. All have had major financial and product ‘bad patches’, where their survival was only justified by the effect closure or break-up would have had on national economies and reputation. All pulled through and look set to remain major independent players in the carmaking sector.

Yet, in Britain, the last vestiges of our national volume car manufacturer, once the world’s fourth largest, are two foreign-owned companies producing niche products. The present position can’t be put down entirely to failures in industrial relations and quality control, mainly over one traumatic decade.

So, where did it all go wrong?

There’s no single factor but a few to consider are:

  • The ‘wrong mix’ of companies merged both in 1952 and the late 1960s.
  • The strong presence of Ford and GM in Britain from early in the 20th century, both of which were perceived as producing more efficiently and consistently. It should be noted that neither were shy about bringing out the begging bowl to keep production in Britain rather than their facilities in mainland Europe.
  • Failure to recover from the trauma of the Leyland merger and to shake off the negative reputation built up in the 1970s.
  • Collapse of the core ‘family’ ownerships of Nuffield and Austin. Compare BMW, Fiat, Ford, Peugeot, Porsche and Toyota, for example, where the controlling family interests and those of the company are indistinguishable and were often protected ruthlessly through political manipulation.
  • ‘Implosion’ back into Britain by moving out of Australia, Belgium, Italy, South Africa and Spain just as rivals were becoming ever more multi-national.
  • The strategic problem of production facilities in landlocked locations and, on the other hand, the state enforced de-centralisation to Central Scotland, Merseyside and South Wales which did little, if anything, to enhance the companies’ viability.
  • UK Government neglect of manufacturing from the late 1970s in favour of other means of wealth creation – there are few better ways of losing money than making cars.
  • The low status of nationalised industries in the UK.

In Britain the last vestiges of our national volume car manufacturer, once the world’s fourth largest, are two foreign-owned companies producing niche products…

That’s only scratching the surface. The key seems to be that, at some point long before the ‘give-away’ to British Aerospace in 1988, those in power decided that there was no strategic benefit in having an indigenously-owned volume vehicle manufacturer.

To a simple-minded observer like myself, apart from balance of payments and employment considerations, the very clear benefits included availability of facilities for military production, opportunities for high level technological research and development, a consistent market for component manufacturers and the iron and steel industry, international trade potential and national prestige.

So, why?

The sorry reputation of Britain’s national car maker in the 1970s put paid to the last of these, and reputation is a fragile commodity, once broken, rarely satisfactorily repaired.

There’s nothing in the British national character, if such a thing exists, which is genetically unsuited to car manufacturing, from the production floor, to top-level designers and management.

Across the international industry Britain is well-represented at the highest levels and the quality and efficiency of the UK Honda (until Swindon’s closure in 2021), Nissan and Toyota plants are among the best worldwide. Automotive design, development and engineering are a major invisible export earner and the design faculties at Coventry University and the RCA are regarded as world-class.

Everything seems to be in place, other than a satisfactory explanation as to why, in 2023, Britain doesn’t have a home-based multi-national car manufacturer to rival Renault, Stellantis or Volkswagen.

Robert Leitch

26 Comments

  1. Lack of a single strong brand didn’t help from the 60s to 80s. Using Leyland might have worked, and they tried it, but the company’s reputation by then was awful. Using Rover in the 90s did work and, ironically, led to a foreign takeover.
    Also, very poor integration of companies after 1952 and 1968. Not merging the dealer networks in the 50s led to some ridiculous designs about product availability and also rivalry at local level that served BMC badly. The same applied in the Leyland era and was only really sorted with the coming of Austin Rover.
    Poor management, government interference all the way through the 60s, 70s and 80s

  2. A different more complimentary post-war consolidation into two automotive combines then what occurred, blessed with a government backed cash injection without strings attached to allow for better integration, marque rationalisation and merging of dealer networks would have helped (e.g. no grand perfect storm of an ill-conceived merger into one over-stretched nationalised unwieldy deflating giant nor state enforced de-centralisation to logistically costly areas – leave that to Ford, GM and other foreign carmakers).

    Truth is that what occurred in real life with UK automotive consolidation made integration more difficult than it needed to be, despite attempts at fitting a square peg in a round hole to make the unworkable viable. Inevitably some redundant marques would have to fall by the wayside, especially if they negatively impact the growth of more commercially successful marques. Even recall reading Rootes were said to be toying with the idea pushing upmarket with Humber (like BL later did with Rover) and discontinuing its other automotive marques due to its small size pre-Chrysler takeover from a talk Mike Taylor gave to Peter Ware during his time at Rootes.

    Poor management would have been a challenge to resolve, however there were competent people that could have accomplished much more in better circumstances with the possibility of better relations with the unions.

    Would contend some of the issues preceded the post-war period, including poor attempts at establishing earlier successful presence outside of the UK in North America (also losing out on what became Jeep in Austin’s case), Continental Europe and South America, etc or in hindsight the less than ideal countries chosen (Mexico and Brazil were big omissions, etc).

    There was also room for Nuffield to rationalise its range and increase commonality pre-war than was achieved, not to mention potential to undergo a similar level of modernization as at Austin under Leonard Lord which would have placed both at time on merger in a more equal position instead of Nuffield being the weaker party (and being in essence a poisoned costly chalice gifted by Morris to Lord).

    Did Nuffield really need to acquire Riley for example? And if the latter were bought by BMW pre-war then surely together with a declining Singer it would provide the government with an ideal excuse to use them to test out their nationalised ideas (also to gain a foothold in BMW for war reparations) and save both Nuffield as well as later Rootes with the burden of yet another surplus marque and their debts (which handicapped with MG in the case of the former and played a negative role in the case of the latter)?

  3. I think a major contributor was the inward looking nature of management, government and unions in the UK.

    For example why was Leyland determinedly picking off UK Truck manufacturers while not pursuing similar opportunities in Europe!

    Again when Saab merged with Scania in 1969, why was Stokes not looking to expand the relationship between Standard Triumph and Saab to include Leyland and Scania, after all they were both bus and truck manufacturers needing to solve the problem of breaking into the Common Market truck market whilst outside it and noting that Scania had in 1964 for this reason opened a factory in the Netherlands. Whilst I know that “collaborating” with the fiercely independent SAAB engineers at Trollhättan is virtually impossible as FIAT and GM proved. However Scania had a very different culture and Stokes should have known that.

    Things did not improve with nationalisation, there was never a convincing strategy at British Leyland either from Management or Unions that made British Leyland a world beater, whilst at Renault the French Government’s objective was unashamedly one of making Renault a world beater. The Ryder plan was a fairytale and Edwards brief was about keeping it alive until something else could be done, which turned out in the end to be getting the Japanese to build cars in the UK. The Union’s alternative to Edwards’ plan (included some work by a young radical union activist called Jeremy Corbyn) was one of near total isolation. Requiring the Government to forcibly nationalise Chrysler’s, Ford’s and GM’s UK operation and close the UK market to all imports (involving the small matter of leaving the Common Market of course) using (and extolling the virtues of) the Soviet Union’s automotive industry as the model for the UK industry.

  4. This issue comes up regularly – and (imo) it demands us to ask the question – Why do we actually want a motor industry?
    Is it for reasons of national prestige? – in which case the loss of an indigenous industry is indeed a humiliation.
    Or is it to deliver economic benefits? In which case the UK automotive sector – certainly until the very recent past – was delivering in spades.

    Employment, business for UK suppliers, tax revenues from companies and employees, R&D (see Keith’s article about the new Nissan Qashqai if you think the UK industry is conducting merely “assembly”) – and the Balance of Payments.
    Robert mentions the Balance of Payments as a core reason why governments have been been keen to retain car manufacturing in the UK.
    Indeed – if you look into (for example) the reason the 70s Labour government and later the Thatcher government underwrote a huge public investment in building the Metro – it was import substitution and export potential – in other words the beneficial impact on the Balance of Payments, that swung it.

    It needs to be emphasized that the export of cars from the UK by foreign owned companies is – broadly speaking – just as beneficial to the UK Balance of Payments as when conducted by an “indigenous” firm.

    After wracking up dreadful Balance of Payments deficits on cars in the 80s the UK totally eliminated the Balance of Payments deficit on cars (if briefly) in 2012.
    Car trade ceased to be a “drag on the economy” and (see below) it still currently is less of one than in France.

    That achievement (which went almost without comment at the time) represented a huge success for the policy-makers of the 1980s who judged (in a nutshell) that the seduction of companies like Nissan might reap bigger economic benefits down the line than supporting the indigenous industry represented by Rover …. that policy never more clear than in 1986 when Nissan opened the Washington (Sunderland) plant assisted by £125 million of government funding while the government simultaneously refused to underwrite the investment plans being tabled by Rover (for the AR6 Metro replacement – for example).

    A decision was taken – and we have seen the results in the 21st century, when – as recently as 2016 – it was possible to argue the UK car manufacturing sector was as strong as it ever had been:
    Production was only slightly below the all-time 1972 peak and the product mix a lot richer than 1972 (when 3 of the “big 4” were already foreign owned incidentally), and exports broke all records in 2016.
    Nissan (to take that example) as a huge exporter was – in Balance of Payments terms – delivering all that policy-makers could have wished for.

    Which raises another point rarely touched on: Foreign ownership of car manufacturing in the UK has brought the very tangible benefit of access to the well-developed overseas distribution networks of the companies concerned.
    Exports and therefore production of certainly Nissan, Toyota, BMW-MINI and (until recently) Honda cars in Britain has undoubtedly been helped by the ability to distribute those cars through networks worldwide which – by the 1980s certainly, the “indigenous” industry lacked. That needs to be added to the ledger of “positives” concerning foreign ownership.

    There are of course counter-arguments about component sourcing and strategic issues – but this comment is long enough already : )
    But if I could just finish by pointing out this:

    France is often held up as an example of a country that has protected its indigenous car industry and thus – one would imagine – is today better-placed than the UK.
    Yet in practice, in 2021 French car production was only a whisker ahead of Britain (even though 2021 was a dreadful year for the British industry). From a level of 3.5 million cars annually not so long ago, they were down to 1 million cars built.
    French ownership or no, the production of most of the popular and smaller Renault, Peugeot and Citroen models has been (totally) off-shored to places like Slovenia, Spain and Turkey – and allied to that, the French deficit on trade in cars is worse proportionally than the UK (all those “patriotic” Frenchmen buying a Renault Clio, Peugeot 2008, Citroen C3 and many more are in fact buying imports, and – by the same token – exports are weaker).

    There’s a great deal of hand-wringing in France over how the car industry is not the “motor of the economy” it once was and how a shift towards more premium priced models that could be viably built inside France and exported worldwide (rather like Jaguar Land Rover and BMW-MINI do) might help …
    One could undertake an intriguing study as to which industrial strategy for the car industry has delivered the best results over the last 40 years – the French or the British.

    Of course that’s all “looking in the rear view mirror” a bit. Since 2016 UK car production has halved (a collapse as steep as the sharp contraction of the late ’70s) and the future looks bleak with the combination of missing EV battery capacity and post-Brexit “rules of origin” realities threatening a near complete elimination of volume car manufacturing in the UK within a decade. But that’s another chapter.

  5. in my opinion the failure was primarily down to 2 things. Firstly the failure (or perhaps, refusal) to make products that were attractive to a global market, the British brands made vehicles for British people and expected the rest of the world to like them, compare this to the success of the Japanese brands who to this day design products that suit every single corner of the globe, and manage to do so without compromising their national market dominance. Ironically, the British industry’s reluctance to other anyone remotely “foreign” influenced backfired and British buyers themselves turned to the more exotic and interesting brands from overseas.
    Secondly, the complete lack of investment by British Aerospace that ultimately killed the company, they were gifted a company with state-funded modern, saleable and profitable products and they simply banked the profits, fobbed buyers off with rebadged Hondas until they could sell the company on the BMW for more then 5 times what they paid

  6. Japan is not exactly the great success you make out. Toyota, yes, the biggest car manufacturer in the world, but Mazda, Mitsubushi and Nissan have struggled leading either to foreign ownership or partnerships while Honda has seen its strong sales on Europe fade away. The Powerhouse is Korea, who having learned from us all are really starting to take over the world, with its range of cars that are very good and reliable.

    Britain has failed as a manufacturing country because of the wrong mentality. Useless managers who are more interested in their own fiefdom than collaborating to improve things, owners in it for a quick profit. You could add unions during the 60s and 70s and some of the silly strikes over very little that occurred (Fords had quite a few from my father’s experience).

    • @ daveh, Nissan are very strong in the UK due to making cars people want to buy like crossovers that are mostly produced over here, Toyota not quite as strong but still a big player in the supermini and SUV market( also have a British factory), but the other Japanese manufacturers have a shrinking market share as their products offer nothing over their rivals. Korean cars are now equally reliable and more cutting edge than many Japanese cars and offer better warranties and are cheaper. Honda used to be praised for making classy, good looking cars, but now seem to charge over the odds for their cars and the Civic has become uglier and weirder with each update. Also Subaru seem to have faded into obscurity and Mitsubishi pulled out of the UK last year.

    • Problem with the “build what the market wants” which Japanese manufacturers were so good at in the later part of the 20th century, is that it you are always one step behind the market.

      Not an issue when you are churning out a value product, but when your product needs to be more premium, as Japanese cars are now that Korea and China are in the volume market. The Japanese manufacturers have found themselves squeezed between the generally more innovative European brands (who have also overcome their quality issue) and “value” brands from Korea and now China. It seems that the Korean’s are doing a better job in moving their brands up market in responses to the Chinese than the Japanese did in response to the Koreans entry into the market.

  7. I find it interesting that this piece considers the “national character” and then rejects it as a factor. I think it plays an important, even deciding, role.

    One thread of this goes back to the start of the industrial revolution. This was started by craftsmen, skilled weavers, blacksmiths and so on. They worked out solutions to improve their production. As they were the first to do this, there was no “venture capital” or the like to support them. Their solutions were ingenious, elegant and – most of all – cheap. And they were designed to solve the problem at hand, not some generalised global solution.

    This mentality persists. On the one hand, for all of factory work in the 19th and 20th centuries, skilled craftsmen never went away. They liked the status, pay and independence that their profession allowed and weren’t going to give it up to become some robot in a Taylor process. And boy, did they defend their position.

    The fascination for clever solutions is still there. Hovercrafts are a good example. A way to cross the channel quickly without the expense of building a tunnel. Of course, when they finally did build a tunnel, hovercrafts were immediately obsolete. Another example would be British computers of the 1950s. They were faster and cheaper than their American competitors. This was because they stretched existing technology beyond the limits that anybody thought possible. But when new technology came along, there was nowhere left for them to go, and the American designs took over.

    A counterpoint to this is Rolls-Royce engines. Hand-assembled by a team of highly skilled engineers and mechanics. Novel solutions and lateral thinking are prized in this environment. Exactly the strengths of Britain. Turns out to be world leading. This appproach and attitude does work.

    Another example of British mentality is mentioned by Graham above. This is the insular thinking that is brought about by being an island race. People are too happy to ignore or mistrust ideas from elsewhere. This is endemic and not just “government” or “management” or “unions”.

    Put the two together, and it leads to a powerful, and very British, strain of Not Invented Here. It is a strong driver of niche products. It’s the reason why BSA spent so much effort designing a three-wheeled articulated motor scooter while the silly Japanese were fitting their bikes with starter motors.

    It can be no accident that the best car BL produced was the Range Rover, a niche product if ever there was one. I like to think of the Princess and the Maxi as being successful niche products. Judging by the market size and their sales, that’s defensible. Trouble is, they were supposed to be million-selling mass market cars. They failed on that count. Even the Marina – supposedly benchmarked against the Cortina – somehow still managed to fit between the Escort and Cortina, trying to find a niche for itself. It’s as if they couldn’t bring themselves to do what the competition was doing, even when chasing a proven winner. Golf/Maestro is an even clearer example.

    There’s no questioning British ingenuity or quality. However, these innovations tend not to be scalable, and also tend to fulfill a niche demand rather than mass market. Rather than lamenting the lack of a home-grown motor industry, I think it’s better to concentrate on the things that the British are genuinely good at and celebrate that instead.

    • For whatever reason the British were not able to prevent themselves from falling far behind the Americans and Germans during the 2nd Industrial Revolution of 1870-1914. Whereas other countries were able to modernize their domestic infrastructure including having their railways undergo full electrification, the UK seems to always be perennially playing catch up (even with motorways, etc).

      It also filters down to the UK car industry where the likes of Jaguar were still said to be building cars from worn tooling and machinery procured from the Standard or others.

  8. A culture leading to inappropriate financial systems, company ownerships and bad/incompetent management, both at company and political levels, so the importance of manufacturing, eg in the Balance of Payments, was ignored. You can blame the unions but IMO they only prospered due to an inability of management to successfully engage with its workforces in a trustworthy manner.

  9. National planning policies certainly didn’t help from the 80s onwards, our indigenous manufacturers factories became prime development sites after a preference to build residential houses on brown field sites. suddenly car manufacturers premises became candy for asset strippers. BA wouldn’t have been as keen to take on A-R if the real estate wasn’t worth as much, the same applies to Phoenix.

  10. The phrase from the article chosen to be highlighted in bold “In Britain the last vestiges of our national volume car manufacturer, once the world’s fourth largest, are two foreign-owned companies producing niche products…” distorts things a little.

    If Jaguar Land Rover and MINI are the two “foreign owned companies producing niche products” referred to (I presume so) – then their combined UK output in recent years (if not 2022) has approached British Leyland’s peak output of cars (916,218 cars produced in the UK in 1972 including a lot of reduced value CKD kits).
    JLR have built over 500,000 vehicles annually in Britain in recent years and MINI over 250,000.
    Even in 2018 (not a great year) their combined UK output was 683,487 cars.
    Forgetting Halewood and (also formerly BL) Castle Bromwich, JLR’s Solihull site (even in depressed 2022) builds more cars than it ever did under British Leyland (or Rover before).
    And Cowley has built more cars since 2001 (over 4 million) than it did in the previous 20 years under BL/Rover ….
    So to describe JLR and MINI as “vestiges” is a little misleading.

  11. This is the eternal question isn’t it; why did it go so wrong?

    I think it started as far back as the Austin Nuffield ‘merger’. There was such hostility between the two factions, which were allowed to remain somewhat separate, running competing dealer networks, making so many different models which occupied the same sectors of the market. Terrible management decisions. How else could they have some of Britain’s best selling models (the 1100, the mini), which also sold well in Europe before entry into the EEC, and still be operating at a loss?

    They should have never been allowed to acquire Pressed Steel, which is when their incompetence was allowed to spread out and overwhelm the whole industry. Leyland and it’s brands may have survived had they not been sucked into the mess that was BMC.

    Government policy during the 60s didn’t really help either though. Never mind economic policy undermining the home market, the Rootes Group was basically done in by being denied planning permission. That sabotaged the Imp from the get go.

    • I mostly agree but the Imp seemed to be let down by it’s unorthodox design, with it being built by inexperienced workers far from their HQ compounded the problems. I did wonder how well an Imp with an iron blocked version of the engine built in Coventry would have done.

      Maybe Linwood would have been better making the more conventional Arrow cars?

      • Linwood did make the Arrow from 69 onwards when the Avenger was started at Ryton. This did not resolve the productivity and quality issues that plagued the plant through to the mid 70s. However by the end of the 70s the plant actually became much better, principally because the employees realised that the Government would not protect their jobs and the alternative jobs, if they could even find one, would only pay half what they were earning a Linwood. Sadly it was all too little too late and Peugeot closed the plant in 81.

  12. The creation of British Leyland was a disaster as it created a bureaucratic monster with huge internal rivalries, overlapping model ranges and hopeless management. Might it not have been better to have left Leyland and BMC to contiune as was in 1968 as Leyland had the highly successful Rover and Triumph brands, as well being a huge player in the bus and commercial vehicle industry, and BMC was still the company’s most popular car manfacturer and had acquired Jaguar in 1966.

  13. @ Richardpd

    It’s true that the rear engine layout was an evolutionary dead end, and maybe they were a bit too clever with the engine design. Still, with a less chaotic development and manufactured by more experienced workers I reckon it could have been a success for the best part of the decade, allowing them to work on a successor.

    And yeah Linwood could have been used to focus on the more conventional vehicles, maybe even just to increase production capacity.

    Still thinking Rootes had the same problem as BMC when it came to marques though; too many. I don’t know which of theirs was the most popular and widely known but it may have paid to just slim down to that one and focus upon that.

    @ Glenn Aylett

    Oh yeah the merger should have never been carried out. All it did was pull Leyland down with them. I said BMC should never have been allowed to get ahold of Pressed Steel. Once they had that they basically took the whole industry hostage. Instead Pressed Steel should have possibly been nationalised to keep it safe, considering how vital it was to the uk car industry.

    And if BMC went bankrupt, it could have also been nationalised what, 7 years earlier? Then they could do all the things that should have been done from ‘52 onwards.

    • Common wisdom would say to the effect that the Imp should have been FWD and a non-alloy / thin-wall cast-iron engine (if not a reliable version of the Imp unit), something vaguely in the manner of an Alfa Romeo Tipo 103 prototype with SOHC instead of DOHC.

      Yet despite being an evolutionary dead-end and the fact Rootes were simply too small to start again from scratch, the Imp was salvageable and had it featured 4-doors could have easily replicated the commercial success of the similarly-sized Simca 1000 as well as helped broaden the Imp’s appeal more with an additional USP over the Mini (even though the Imp was apart from engine size closer to ADO16).

      It would have also allowed for the development of a sportier SWB two-box model (think Suzuki Whizzkid and Fiat 850-based SEAT 133), akin to a rear-engined version of the Corvair-esque Vauxhall XP-714 prototype to indirectly compete with the Mini Cooper and make use of the unproduced entry-level 800cc Imp engine, which was discarded as the Imp grew during development.

      There is also the question of what other alternative engine ideas Rootes could have drawn inspiration from in place of the Coventry Climax based engine for the Imp (or the inferior Villers and placeholder Citroen Twins).

      One fairly plausible idea would be in the same way Rover developed the Standard Wet-liner influenced Land Rover engines after merger talks with Standard-Triumph fell through in 1959, Rootes could have made a similar approach in cribbing the Standard SC engine (if not the Standard Ten) during merger talks with Standard-Triumph during the 1950s, similar to how Reliant cribbed the SC engine from the discontinued Standard Eight to develop the all-alloy Reliant OHV engine.

      Then there was the option of getting new tooling for the Minx engine to allow it to resemble what Isuzu achieved the Bellet, Florian and 117 Coupe, which included dieselized engines yet displacement would have only been around 1.2-1.3-litres at most as opposed to the 800-1000cc+ sector the Imp was targeting.

  14. @ JCC, it’s possible BMC could have struggled in the seventies as buyers stayed away from the Allegro and Maxi and nationalisation could have occurred in 1974, as happened with British Leyland. However, Rover and Triumph would have been safe from this disaster and probably the SD1 and TR7 would have been well made, desirable cars from the start.

    • Are you sure? The P8 was a disaster, and Leylands commercial arm were also shooting itself in the head with the 500 engine. If you read Harry Websters interview he did with Classic Cars back in the day, they were always scrapping around for money, which does not sound like a successful company to me.

  15. @ Glen Aylett oh for sure, had BMC stayed on its current path it would have sunk anyway. But my hope is, if the government was in control of it by the end of the 60s I think some hard decisions could have been made and it would have begun the process of recovery. It had a fantastic market share and a lot of good will at that time, plenty to build upon.

    Nationalisation could have lead to rationalisation a lot sooner. Get all those brands and their factory and dealer networks under control. Austin, MG and Jaguar would be enough. Don’t waste 40 million rebuilding the tooling for the 20 year old minor, take your best selling 1100 and develop that. All the pieces were there, they just needed strong competent management to get it done.

  16. @JCC, some rationalisation did take place in the seventies. The seperate Austin and Nuffield dealerships were merged by 1975, a fifth of the dealer network was closed, and Wolseley was finished in 1975. It still wasn’t enough as there were three overlapping car ranges in the family sector, there was no commonality between cars like the Morris Marina and Austin Maxi, and internal rivalries were still a problem. Only the Survival Plan of 1979 saw drastic and essential changes to the company that saw half the workforce axed and a slimmed down Austin Rover range of cars introduced.

    • Yes that’s what I was saying, those actions taken in the late seventies should have been carried out by the old BMC 15 to 20 years earlier at least, before any merger.

      They had six brands with competing dealer networks when 2 to 3 would have been enough. Austin as the everyday brand, making family cars and commercial vehicles (I preferred Morris tbh but bmc was Austin led), MG as the sporting brand, making sports cars and sport saloons, and maybe Vanden Plaas, making big luxury cars.

      Although personally I think that MG could have been developed to cover that premium spot too. Austin and MG together, like Volkswagen and Audi came to be. Then Jaguar or Rover (I know they talked to both) could fit in at the top…maybe. Had MG been developed enough, they might not have been needed.

      That’s just some of my musings on the matter, which have probably been said hundreds of times before.

  17. Its not just the motor industry, all industry has effectively been demolished. Great names like ICI and GEC all thrown away by a mix of incompetence, laziness and government indifference. You can whinge all you want – but as noted Germany has 3 major motor manufacturers plus the likes of Siemens and AEG whilst France has 2 major car manufacturers, that include the Stellantis power house along with big industrial combines such as Alstom – We only have ourselves to blame, not only are we not very good when it comes to this sort of business, but we dont care either.

  18. @ Paul, in many ways, you’re right and the end of GEC and ICI would have been unthinkable even in the eighties when many manufacturing companies vanished. However, the nationalised industries like British Steel were complete lame ducks, grossly overmanned, losing money hand over fist and with productivity way below their foreign competitors. Also British Leyland was a complete joke around the world by the late seventies and heading for oblivion.

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