From small acorns…a world-standard industry – Part 5
While Great Britain was a driving force for the world from the very earliest days of the motorcar, even though it may have lost some of its impact during the 1970s and 1980s, it can be said fairly to have re-established its image in world terms, with industry-leading technology, the development of ‘Motorsport Valley’ as a leading world centre of expertise and a motor vehicle production talent that is no longer governed by the high unit costs highlighted in Part 1 of this series.
Although the UK no longer hosts an annual British Motor Show that is supported by all of the world’s car manufacturers (the NEC, Birmingham, was once home to a biennial international spectacular, with the Earls Court dealer event occupying alternative years from a London base), its annual Commercial Vehicle Show and Autosports International command both UK and world audiences.
Car fans wishing to make the annual pilgrimage to Geneva every spring for the first of the European motoring expositions, can fly from Birmingham Airport on a day-return basis. More recently, a motor show of sorts has been held at Canary Wharf, in London, although the successful return of the London event in 2016, now taking place in Battersea Park, is still only dealer supported.
It is fortunate that the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust was established during the 1970s, when a division of BLMC was formed to preserve, protect and manage an irreplaceable collection of the company’s historic vehicles. Originally, under the auspices of BL Heritage Ltd, its headquarters was based at Studley, Warwickshire. However, a museum was established two years later, at Syon Park, in the west of London.
By 1983, having shown a broader interest in all makes of motorcar, the BMIHT was granted charitable status and, despite the ebb and flow of supporting companies, the collection continued to grow. The former RAF Gaydon site, close to the M40, just south of Warwick, which was also home to Rover Group’s design and R&D facilities, was chosen as a suitable base for a new building to celebrate the industry’s West Midlands’ home and work commenced on the rotunda that would provide a central showpiece to more than 250 vehicles and the millions of archived photographs and other memorabilia that had been amassed.
When Rover Group was sold to BMW in 1994, the new British Motor Museum came under its control, which was transferred to Ford Motor Company six years later. As a Trust, it was able to incorporate a great many of the UK marques and models that were deemed important to the industry. Some of Jaguar’s and Land Rover’s Heritage Collection is now carried at the Museum. However, of equal importance to the people of Coventry, a town instrumental to the British Motor Industry, the Coventry Transport Museum (which is free of entrance charge) holds 240 cars and other vehicles, 100 motorbikes and 200 cycles, the majority of which have a direct link to the town.
Taking a broader view, Britain is now home to a world-beating supercar company in McLaren Sportscars. Based at Woking, Surrey, but also with a brand new £50m carbon-fibre composites plant in Sheffield, it is taking a profitable fight directly to Maranello (Ferrari) and Zuffenhausen (Porsche). However, with a past steeped in small volume specialist sportscars (TVR, Lotus, Marcos, Lister, Noble and so on), the UK was always waiting for a high-powered automotive Messiah to emerge.
While it is important to celebrate the past, looking to the industry’s future is vital to the UK economy. Large production facilities exist for Nissan-Infiniti at Sunderland, Honda at Swindon, Toyota at Derby, BMW Mini at Oxford, Bentley at Crewe, Rolls-Royce at Chichester and JLR in the West Midlands and other sites in the UK. PSA and Ford no longer produce vehicles in the UK, although GM-owned Vauxhall has resurrected its Merseyside factory, across the river from the Land Rover plant at Halewood, in which to produce the Astra model range. Vauxhall also produces light commercial vehicles at its Luton base.
All of these companies operate development centres in the UK and, apart from line production personnel, of which there are far fewer these days, since the advent of robotic manufacturing, welders, panel-beaters, assemblers and finishing experts are in constant demand, as are Quality Assurance exponents and inspectors, such as ISQA and A-Met Metrology.
The once great British Motor Industry has returned to being a valued institution but one that has evolved to deal with modern demands, not just from its end customers but also from its owners, many of which are based outside of Great Britain in what can only described as a genuine world industry. Productivity is on the increase, exports have bloomed to outstanding levels and more than a record 2.6m cars alone were registered for use on British roads just last year.
The entire industry is bigger, stronger, better equipped and more productive than ever and it is up to its officers and standard-bearers to ensure that it remains in pole position for the rest of the world to contemplate. It is one of the core reasons that companies like ISQA have grown, as the Motor Industry thrives, engineering its future positively and preserving its past zealously.
‘Make Quality Count!’