Opinion : Toyota in the UK – unsung hero in manufacturing

Toyota Avensis

Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed the quiet addition of a Toyota Avensis onto the list of cars I’ve owned in the My life in Cars blog. It formerly belonged to a friend who’d relocated to France a couple of years ago and, after deciding not to import it there full time, he asked me to get it re-registered in the UK, so it could live another life.

After he drove it back here, I started the lengthy process of sorting out the paperwork to get it re-registered here after he reported it exported previously. I won’t bore you with the administrative twists and turns here but, suffice to say, it was about three months before the Avensis could leave the carpark and drive on The King’s Highways again. I’m rather glad we made the effort.

The admin was definitely worth it, though. The Avensis proved to be a big grey, solid and capable load hauler and mile-muncher. But more impressively for me, was the sheer solidity of the thing, and how after 15 years and 130,000 miles of driving, nothing had broken off, everything still worked and, to go back to an old and well-used cliché, I’d quite happily jump in it and drive to the south of France without any worries. Imagine it was 1989 now – would you feel quite so confident about doing the same in a 1974 Cortina or Marina Estate?

Hang on a sec… why the Cortina and Marina comparison? Ah, yes, for those who might not know this – the Avensis was built here in the UK at Toyota’s Burnaston car factory.

Toyota Avensis

Of course, the idea of well-made Japanese designed car rolling off the line here in Blighty is far from novel for AROnline readers. We’ve been successfully screwing together Japanese cars to Japanese build standards since the Triumph Acclaim in 1981. Indeed, after chatting to Nissan’s UK manufacturing boss a couple of years ago, we’re still up there with the best after all those years.

Back in the 1980s and into the 1990s, all talk of the future of car manufacturing in the UK was centred on how to encourage overseas manufacturers into setting up facilities here. First out of the starting blocks was Nissan and, after announcing that it would be setting shop in the North East in 1984, the first Bluebirds rolled off the line in 1986. Honda was next out of the blocks having tested the water with Austin Rover, establishing engine manufacturing facility here in 1989, with cars following in 1992.

After that, came Toyota Motor Manufacturing (UK) Limited, which was established in 1989. The following April, the Japanese firm paid Inchcape £110 million in cash for a 50% stake in its Toyota (GB) distribution business. Inchcape’s Chairman, our very own George Turnbull, had been instrumental in the Japanese company’s move into the UK, by encouraging and facilitating, and then the subsequent formation of its manufacturing business in Deeside, Flintshire (engines) and Burnaston, Derbyshire (cars).

Toyota Avensis

By the time my Avensis rolled off the line in 2009, Toyota Manufacturing (UK) Limited was a well established and important player in UK car manufacturing. As well as the Avensis, the Auris was built alongside it. Importantly, all proved just as dependable and solid as any of their Japanese counterparts, while bringing important manufacturing business into the UK.

The T270-generation Avensis had a remarkably long production life, finally shuffling off this mortal coil in 2018, with 1,936,572 examples made, to be replaced in UK manufacturing terms by the current generation Toyota Corolla (E210) and its badge-engineered cousin, the Suzuki Swace. It wasn’t a done deal that the UK would get the E210, only being confirmed in early 2018, following a £240m investment to upgrade production lines for the TNGA platform the Corolla sits on. Burnaston and Deeside currently employ 3800 workers (‘members’ in Toyota-speak).

As well as manufacturing new cars and engines, the Burnaston plant also refurbishes used models and, in its 30+ year history, more than 4.5 million cars have been built here (that landmark being passed in 2020), at around 150,000 per year.

And what of my Avensis? It’s been sold. I mentioned it was up for sale on social media, was approached by a friend who was interested that evening, and within a couple of days, it had found a new owner. Boringly dependable and well made is clearly what people want in their motors – and that’s why Toyota’s continued presence in the UK should be celebrated…

Keith Adams


  1. Don’t forget the taxi drivers favourite, the first car to be made at Burnaston, the Carina E, a rock solid reliable car that was made to feel and look more European( hence the E for Europe). Then came the Corolla from 1996 to 2006, another car that was as well built as Japanese versions, and a few of which can be seen on the roads today.

    • The Carinas were common to see around until a few years ago, & it’s still possible to spot them around.

      Same with that generation of Corollas, I often see a 04 reg estate around Stockport that looks in decent condition.

  2. The Avensis was great minicab-fodder; the D4D versions could rack up enormous mileages and the interior trim was hard-wearing.

    Previous to that the minicabber’s favourite was another British-built Japanese car – the late-80s Nissan Bluebird. Again, capable of driving to the moon and back on each shift. The Bluebird drove the Cavalier out of my local taxi-ranks as the hire-car favourite.

    Now round here all the minicabs are Priuses or E-class Mercs.

  3. Skoda took over the taxi trade here in the mid noughties and the Superb and Octavia are very popular. I was in a 13 plate Superb last year in Carlisle that had done 250k miles and for all the interior trim was coming apart and it had several dents and scratches, the driver said the car had never let him down once and he was replacing it with another Skoda. The bigger Skodas seem to be the heirs to the British built Japanese badged cars from the nineties and early noughties. ( Last generation Nissan Primera with Renault engines fell out of favour due to being less reliable than its predecessors).

  4. They are even supporting our railways, exporting cars from Burnaston via Toton yard in Nottinghamshire to the Channel Tunnel, and bringing in Aygos and Yarisses the other way.

  5. I’ve had a 2007 Corolla Verso (2.2 D4D) from new. Never broke down, works every day. Just did 400 miles in it, 4 up, with a 60 MPG average. My only problem is that there is nothing to replace it. I have serviced it 13 times so far, and always with fully synthetic oil. Curious to see how long it goes on for.

  6. Toyotas seem to go on forever if they’re serviced every year and the British built ones have proved to be just as reliable as Japanese models. Eventually something will fail like any car, possibly a component that will be too expensive to fix, but they are good for over 200k miles if they’re looked after. I see several old Corollas in every day use, one dating back to 2001, and none look like they’re falling apart.

  7. Everyone blamed poor quality and reliability of British cars on the workers who assembled them – Friday afternoon cars etc. The arrival of Japanese transplants proved it was poor design and material quality that was really to blame. Even at that hot bed of militancy that had churned out thousands of self destructing Princesses, Marinas and Maxis – as soon as the very same line workers where given the Acclaim to assemble right out of the box they where making cars as well as Honda.

  8. That Avensis was a great car, boring, but dependable and really comfy. The previous version was dependable but just awful. Had one as a company pool car and it had very uncomfortable seats, especially driving big miles up the M1/M6, poor rear visibility and an asthmatic engine. The only good thing was the fuel economy!

    I think the real reason why Toyota and Nissan showed Britain could build decent cars was management. British management want to cut corners and costs to make the quick profit and allow them to move onto the next big job before the sh*t hits!

    • I had 4 of the mk2 Avensis as hire cars in Ireland, all had the 1.6 petrol engine, which we didn’t get here, which must rank as one of the most underpowered engines known to man. Plus they all had the same appalling gearchange, which was very difficult to engage and very infuriating! I also found the driving position too high (I am 6ft1). Eventually I saw sense and now drive an automatic, but have arthritis in my left ankle…

  9. The Japanese practised “design to build” (and were rather successful at it) for a long time, rather than the other way round – build to design – which is how BL etc did it until the Acclaim came along.

    As such, the Acclaim fitted together nicely out of the box and was a quality product – from the same factory and workers which churned out poor quality Marinas, Maxis and Princesses (as Paul said above). The Acclaim was designed to be built properly, you see, unlike its predecessors…

    In effect, anyway.

    • I heard the Acclaim fitted together so well that many workers on the line hardly had anything to do, I presume they were usually fettling panels on BL cars so they would fit.

  10. The problem with many British cars was, apart from poor designs and strikes disrupting production and having a knock on effect on quality, was the lack of quality control that often extended to component suppliers. Japanese factories set up in Britain insisted on single union deals, less job demarcation and a rigid policy of quality control that ensured no car left the factory with defects. Also any component supplier that wanted to do business with the likes of Nissan needed to ensure their quality was impeccable, as many faults with British cars had been caused by poor components.

  11. I have worked at afew car parts manufacturing factories in Birmingham uk what happens is toyota honda set up a cell for there part and the number of people needed on that cell to complete the manufactured part but soon as they go back the company reduce the number of people on the cell and you end up with inferior quality parts that end up rejected and scraped all the company think is the hourly target with reduced no of people

  12. “Boringly dependable and well made is clearly what people want in their motors.” I disagree. Unfortunately most people nowadays would prefer to “spend” their PCP payments on an unreliable and problem ridden but so called premium German car. How times change.

  13. That’s because the German brands offer the best monthly PCP terms because they depreciate the least. It will cost me less per month to buy a BMW 1 series, than a Focus or Corolla, because you only fund the depreciation. Similarly companies lease, and for the same reason, the German brands are available on the best terms. That’s why they dominate the market.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.