British Car Industry. Where Is It Today?


Published on November 29th, 2014 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez


British Car Industry. Where Is It Today?

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The British car industry, once the global leader with brands like Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Bentley, Aston Martin, Rover, Triumph, MG, Lotus, Land Rover and more is now left with just a few brands that can really be considered British. The ownership of most of the brands mentioned earlier are in the hands of companies with no British ties.

The British automotive industry has certainly endured a long, painful struggle. In 1972, the country built all-time peak of 1.92 million cars. Eight years later that had halved to fewer than a million. It was a time of tumultuous upheaval. A major automaker was partly nationalized, thousands were made unemployed and hundreds of work days lost to strikes. Antiquated factories, bad designs, and increased foreign competition added to the headaches.

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By the time free-market stalwart Margaret Thatcher took office in 1979, the UK automotive industry looked set to crash. But in 1984, two decisive moments helped turn things around. The first, the start of a bitter battle with Britain’s powerful miners’ union, ended in the union’s defeat: Workers’ power could be curtailed. France has had no equivalent moment.

In the same year, Thatcher also signed a deal to bring Nissan to make cars in England’s depressed north. No thought was given to a government stake, but the deal was helped by the government’s offer of land at rock-bottom agricultural prices.

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As the 21st century began, BMW briefly returned Rover to UK hands. But sales kept falling and by 2005 MG Rover was sold to Nanjing Automotive of China. Fast-forward a decade and the Nissan plant, with its gleaming machines, robotic arms and widespread automation, is the country’s biggest car assembly site, building one in three of Britain’s 1.5 million cars last year. The 356,000-square meter complex is a far cry from the dirty, rundown 1970s plants.


Conveyors transport the soon-to-be-car from chassis to completion, lifting it into the air for the engine to be fitted before testing. Today, UK auto workers can be up to twice as efficient as their French counterparts, according to Bernstein Research. At BMW’s plant in Oxford, England, each worker produced around 46 Minis on average last year compared with roughly 23 vehicles per PSA worker at the Sochaux plant in France.

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