The British car industry

Le dernier opus de la saga James Bond a encore une fois fait la part belle au secteur automobile anglais avec pas moins de 3 modèles luxueux de marques différentes (Aston Martin, Land-Rover et Jaguar). Mais ce nouvel épisode est tout aussi révélateur de l’évolution du secteur au Royaume-Uni : ces 3 marques d’origine anglaise ont toute été rachetées par des sociétés étrangères. Le temps où James Bond roulait en 100% british est désormais révolu. 

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To understand the importance of the British car industry, let’s first go back in time. It’s in 1904, with Frederick Henry Royce, that the British car history really began, when this brilliant engineer almost single-handedly built his first automobile in a hangar in Manchester. Shortly after his friends introduced him in May 1904 to aristocrat Charles Stewart Rolls, an engine fanatic. Both decided to found, on March 15th, 1906, what is considered the flagship of the British automobile industry: Rolls-Royce. Then, in subsequent years, Jaguar, Bentley and Aston Martin, future prestige brands were also established. Although more recent than the French and German car industries, in 1937, England became the first car producer in Europe and accounted for 15% of the world’s car exports. And 22 years later, in 1955, 52% of the world exports of automobiles were British.

But after the golden age of the nineteen fifties, the automotive industry started declining in the sixties. This decline was reinforced from the late 70s to 1990, with the advent of Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, the automotive industry was not immune to the wave of privatizations that swept the country. For example British Leyland (which owned Jaguar and Rover at the time) was privatized in 1988. Some years later, the company disappeared, drove many workers to unemployment and finally plunged the whole industry into crisis.

However, Britain was able to rise up and stay in the heart of the global automotive industry thanks to two things:

-Firstly its capacity to innovate and the training of great engineers made into a country admired worldwide for its savoir-faire.
-Secondly the massive buyout by foreign car companies had a significant role in helping the British automotive sector back on its feet. Indeed, many foreign companies bought British firms to save them from bankruptcy during the 2000s (like Jaguar in 2008 by Indian giant Tata). Foreign firms (especially Japanese and Indian firms) are the source of a large part of the jobs in this sector with the production of several of their flagship models like the Nissan Qashqai which represents one third of English sales.

Thanks to this, foreign firms have not only saved thousands of jobs in the sector, but allowed Her Majesty’s most famous spy to continue to drive “made in the UK” cars  to save the world.

Alexandre BEL, Loïck BOINNARD & Yassine FILALI

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