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.
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).
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…