Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Here we are – another year older and probably not much wiser. It’s certainly been an interesting one – what with months and months of debate and recrimination about Brexit and the future of our car industry, there has certainly been lots to write about. I’ve already mentioned the ‘B’ word once, but I think I’ll refrain from doing so again… at least for a few sentences.
The good news is that AROnline powers on and, despite MG Rover being little more than a fading memory these days, it’s been a busy old world in our universe. The remnants of Longbridge were finally consigned to the scrapheap, first with the SMTC being closed, and then the confirmation of the site being sold for redevelopment. Given we thought it was curtains in 2005, I suppose, while it staggered on, it gave gainful employment for a few, while SAIC decided what it was doing with MG. And that was simple: to become an SUV manufacturer (like everyone else), and a full-time importer.
Luckily, away from toy town and with the real-world car manufacturers, some interesting new UK-produced cars entered the fray. I drove the Range Rover Evoque early on, and found that they’d done a great job of refining and renewing this highly profitable SUV, and that was just what JLR needed in a backdrop of economic doom and gloom. Other new cars from the company in 2019 included facelifted XE and Discovery Sport, both of which were usefully incrementally improved – and great indicators that us Brits can still make a decent steer.
The biggest news was the arrival of the Land Rover Defender, which I’ve yet to drive, but which should be good. As with all of the above-named JLRmobiles, there’s no full-EV version yet, although plug-ins will come on stream in 2020. The company set the early running in the EV sector with the I-Pace, but is in danger of being overtaken by its rivals – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz will be in full-on offensive mode getting a raft of EVs out before 2025, and I fear JLR may well be overwhelmed, given the scale of investment needed. The good news is that the I-Pace is still leagues ahead of the disappointing Audi E-Tron and Mercedes-Benz EQC (at least in terms of dynamics and range), even if it’s still outshone by Tesla, which bodes well for the future (especially next year’s Jaguar XJ-E).
Defending the faith?
There is no sugar coating the fragile state of the UK industry right now, though. Jaguar Land Rover seemed to lurch from one financial bad-news story to another, while rumours of a PSA takeover mounted. In the end, JLR’s fortunes seemed to turn on the back of some quite tough efficiency measures, while I suspect PSA may well now be otherwise engaged with its humungous merger with the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group.
Speaking of PSA, French-owned Vauxhall in the UK staged a remarkable turnaround in terms of its overall health. Sales might have been down, but profitability has returned to the Griffin, and the medium-term future of the company’s Ellesmere Port plant seems reasonably settled. As well as the continued production of Astras up there, it was great to see that Luton started churning out PSA-based vans in decent quality and quantity. The model range is taking shape now – and it will be interesting to see how the new Corsa sells when it arrives here next spring.
The arrival of Ineos on the scene, and confirmation that the Grenadier 4×4 will be built in Wales should also provide some cheer. There’s a gap in the market vacated by the old Defender, which the new one doesn’t quite fill. If they get it right, this could be a significant development. It should also counteract the sad news that Dyson called time on its car-building ambitions in the UK. Clearly, breaking into the EV market cold is a financial undertaking beyond even a company of this size and resourcefulness. Honda used the business of scaling up its EV business as a reason for announcing the closure of its highly efficient factory in Swindon. The news of the closure came as a hammer-blow to the area – I really do hope someone will fill that vacuum.
Onwards and upwards for 2020
Finally, the Brexit debacle has been settled. And as the sun sets on 2019, I sincerely hope that the country – all of us – can move on, and make a success of this new economic reality, whether we like it or now. While the indecision was ongoing, and with Westminster limping along disastrously, it felt like industry was seizing up as we had no idea what was going to happen. At least we do now – and already there are signs that consumer confidence is picking up. It will be needed if falling car sales during 2019 are any indication of where the UK has been.
So, I actually feel some hope that 2020 will be a better year than 2019. Let’s face it – it can’t be any worse.
Bringing it back to AROnline before I sign off, the site continued on its merry way in 2019. It still attracts a small and enthusiastic following, and it’s good to know that it’s established as the place to come for BMC, Leyland and Rover knowledge and information. I’m still finding new things to write about, and there are still lots of undiscovered treasures out there to share with you all. I fully intend to develop the site further in 2020, and would really like to move into the world of video to back up the words that have served this site so well since 2001. Something in print should also manifest itself… stay tuned.
But for now enjoy Christmas and New Year’s break – hope it’s happy and peaceful for you all!