Britain’s car manufacturers have had a very mixed history. In the 1950’s we were second only to the USA in terms of cars manufactured and we supplied 52% of the entire worlds exported cars. However Britain was slow to adopt the rationalised product ranges that made lower cost production possible. The industry had quality issues its management failed to address and the work force was rampantly militant. As a result they started to lose market share to European and Japanese rivals.
By the 1970’s overseas companies were starting to buy British Marks and production was moving away from the UK with factory closures particularly devastating in the West Midlands. The low point came in 1994 when the sale of Rover to BMW meant there was no longer a UK owned mass produced car.
However in 1986 Nissan had opened its first European manufacturing plant and it had chosen to do so in UK. Their plant in Sunderland was followed by Toyota who opened a factory in Derby in 1992. This was the start of a new trend – we might not own the brands anymore but the UK’s expertise and now flexible labour market increasingly made it the location of choice for global car companies. All these factories needed components and so each one supported a huge supply chain that was increasingly based in the UK.
This was not only great news for our economy but it was a good thing for the British consumer too. With so many cars being built on our shores, this led to better pricing for us. This leaves individuals and businesses, with a little bit of extra money to pay for the other car related costs such as insurance and all those taxes.
During the recent recession the European car industry has really suffered however the UK has weathered the storm with new factories planned, opened and expansions at existing facilities. The value of cars exported from the UK is higher than imports for the first time since the mid 70’s and the average value of the exported cars is £20,600, more than double the average of exported cars in 2004. Britain has now sold more than five million cars since the start of this decade, a record number.