IT’S a very long time since Britain had a motor industry to be proud of but we have now – and it’s playing a major role in powering this country towards a prosperous future.
Once we were at the very centre of world car production. We built great cars. Everyone wanted to buy them, tens of thousands of people earned a living from them – but then the wheels came off, metaphorically and, sometimes, literally.
Nightmare industrial relations, shoddy workmanship, spiralling costs and fierce foreign competition combined to create the perfect storm and a great chunk of Britain’s industrial base crumbled away to almost nothing.
British-built cars were a laughing stock around the globe. British Leyland, in its various guises, became synonymous with inefficient work practices, incompetent management and third-rate vehicles.
Well now the wheel has turned full circle for the British motor industry. The good times are back; the UK is building top-quality cars and churning out more than either Germany or Italy.
Cynics can point out that most of the companies driving this British revival are foreign-owned but that’s an inevitable result of increasing globalisation and anyway the hundreds of thousands of jobs are British jobs.
Reliable forecasts suggest that on current performance Britain will be making two million cars a year by 2017, smashing a record that has stood since 1972. An industry on the edge of collapse not so long ago will become the car capital of the world. However you view it, it’s an astonishing success story.
Eight out of 10 cars built in this country end up abroad. British-made cars are now sold in more than 170 countries and for the first time the UK is making more money from exporting cars than it spends on importing them.
Booming new markets like China and Russia can’t get their hands on our Jags and Land-Rovers fast enough. At home, recession survivors are splashing out; new car sales are at their highest level since 2007 with cheap-as-chips city cars and superminis leading the way.
Almost wherever you look it’s a rosy picture. Nissan’s Sunderland investment received a quick payback when the brilliant new Qashqai was named European Car of the Year; Jaguar, with its gorgeous new F-Type at the forefront, is the fastest growing marque in Germany, America and India.
Rolls-Royces and Bentley are slaughtering their own sales records with each passing year, even if only a small minority of them are going to British buyers still a little cautious in the wake of the recession. The MINI plant is flat out to cope with demand. Honda at Swindon and Toyota at Derby are going great guns.
The boom theme is reflected in motorsport too. Seven Formula One teams are based within a tyre squeal of one another in leafy Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. It accounts for £7 billion of global sales, £4 billion in exports and employs 40,000 people.
It seems like only yesterday that the government was offering incentives for people to scrap their cars and buy new ones in a bid to avert the death of the industry. Now the car manufacturers are fuelling Britain’s recovery.