Automotive industry in the United Kingdom
The automotive industry in the United Kingdom is now best known for premium and sports car marques including Aston Martin, Bentley, Daimler, Jaguar, Lagonda, Land Rover, Lotus, McLaren, MG, Mini, Morgan and Rolls-Royce. Volume car manufacturers with a major presence in the UK include Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Vauxhall Motors (subsidiary of Adam Opel AG, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of GM). Commercial vehicle manufacturers active in the UK include Alexander Dennis, Ford, GMM Luton (owned by Adam Opel AG), Leyland Trucks (owned by Paccar) and London Taxis International (owned by Geely).
In 2008 the UK automotive manufacturing sector had a turnover of £52.5 billion, generated £26.6 billion of exports and produced around 1.45 million passenger vehicles and 203,000 commercial vehicles. In that year around 180,000 people were directly employed in automotive manufacturing in the UK, with a further 640,000 people employed in automotive supply, retail and servicing. The UK is a major centre for engine manufacturing and in 2008 around 3.16 million engines were produced in the country. The UK has a significant presence in auto racing and the UK motorsport industry currently employs around 38,500 people, comprises around 4,500 companies and has an annual turnover of around £6 billion.
The origins of the UK automotive industry date back to the final years of the 19th century. By the 1950s the UK was the second-largest manufacturer of cars in the world (after the United States) and the largest exporter. However in subsequent decades the industry experienced considerably lower growth than competitor nations such as France, Germany and Japan and by 2008 the UK was the 12th-largest producer of cars measured by volume. Since the late 1980s many British car marques have been acquired by foreign companies including BMW (Mini and Rolls-Royce), SAIC (MG), TATA (Jaguar and Land Rover) and Volkswagen Group (Bentley). Rights to many currently dormant brands, including Austin, Riley, Rover and Triumph, are also owned by foreign companies.
Famous and iconic British cars include the Aston Martin DB5, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Bentley 4½ Litre, Jaguar E-Type, Land Rover Defender, Lotus Esprit, McLaren F1, MGB, original two-door Mini, Range Rover and Rolls-Royce Phantom III. Notable British car designers include John Polwhele Blatchley, Ian Callum, Colin Chapman, Alec Issigonis, Charles Spencer King and Gordon Murray.
1896 to 1900
The inception of the British motor industry can be traced back to the late 1880s, when Frederick Simms, a London-based consulting engineer, became friends with Gottlieb Daimler, who had, in 1885, patented a successful design for a high-speed petrol engine. Simms acquired the British rights to Daimler's engine and associated patents and from 1891 successfully sold launches using these Cannstatt-made motors from Eel Pie Island in the Thames. In 1893 he formed The Daimler Motor Syndicate Limited for his various Daimler-related enterprises.
In June 1895 Simms and his friend Evelyn Ellis promoted motorcars in Britain by bringing a Daimler-engined Panhard & Levassor to England and in July it completed, without police intervention, the first British long-distance motorcar journey from Southampton to Malvern.
Simms' documented plans to manufacture Daimler motors and Daimler Motor Carriages (in Cheltenham) were taken over, together with his company and its Daimler licences, by London company-promoter H J Lawson. Lawson contracted to buy The Daimler Motor Syndicate Limited and all its rights and on 14 January 1896 formed and in February successfully floated in London The Daimler Motor Company Limited. It then purchased from a friend of Lawson a disused cotton mill in Coventry for car engine and chassis manufacture where, it is claimed, Britain's first serial production car was made.
The claim for the first all-British motor car is contested, but George Lanchester's first cars of 1895 and 1896 did include French and German components. In 1891 Richard Stephens, a mining engineer from South Wales, returned from a commission in Michigan to establish a bicycle works in Clevedon, Somerset. Whilst in America he had seen the developments in motive power and by 1897 he had produced his first car. This was entirely of his own design and manufacture, including the two-cylinder engine, apart from the wheels which he bought from Starley in Coventry. This was probably the first all-British car and Stephens set up a production line, manufacturing in all, twelve vehicles, including four- and six-seater cars and hackneys, and nine-seater buses.
Early motor vehicle development in the UK had been effectively stopped by a series of Locomotive Acts introduced during the 19th century which severely restricted the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on the public highways. Following intense advocacy by motor vehicle enthusiasts, including Harry J. Lawson of Daimler, the worst restrictions of these acts, (the need for each vehicle to be accompanied by a crew of three, and a 2 mph (3.2 km/h) speed limit in towns), was lifted by the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896. Under this regulation, light locomotives (those vehicles under 3 tons unladen weight) were exempt from the previous restrictions, and a higher speed limit – 14 mph (23 km/h) was set for them. To celebrate the new freedoms Lawson organised the Emancipation Run held on 14 November 1896, the day the new Act came into force. This occasion has been commemorated since 1927 by the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.
1900 to 1939
The early British vehicles of the late 19th century relied mainly upon developments from Germany and France. By 1900 however, the first all-British 4-wheel car had been designed and built by Herbert Austin as manager of The Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company. In 1901, backed by (Vickers Limited) brothers 'Colonel Tom' and Albert Vickers, Austin started what became Wolseley Motors Limited in Birmingham and UK's largest car manufacturer until Ford in 1913.
The great bulk of the pioneering car producers, many of them from the bicycle industry, got off to a shaky start. Of the 200 British makes of car that had been launched up until 1913, only about 100 of the firms were still in existence. In 1910 UK vehicle production was 14,000 units. By 1913 Henry Ford had built a new factory in Manchester and was the leading UK producer, building 7310 cars that year, followed by Wolseley at 3000, Humber (making cars since 1898 in Coventry) at 2500, Rover (Coventry car maker since 1904) at 1800 and Sunbeam (producing cars since 1901) at 1700, with the plethora of smaller producers bringing the 1913 total up to about 16,000 vehicles. Car production virtually came to an end during the war years 1914–1918, although the requirements of war production led to the development of new mass-production techniques in the motor industry.
By 1922 there were 183 motor companies in the UK, and by 1929, following the slump years, there were 58 companies remaining. In 1929 production was dominated by Morris (founded by William Morris in 1910 in Oxford) and Austin (founded by Herbert Austin in Birmingham in 1905 after he left Wolseley) which between them produced around 60% of total UK output. Singer (Coventry motorcycle manufacturer started building cars in 1905) followed in third place that year with 15% of production.
In 1932 Britain overtook France to become Europe's largest car producer (a position which it retained until 1955). In 1937 the UK produced 379,310 passenger cars and 113,946 commercial vehicles. To celebrate the granting of his peerage, William Morris upon becoming Viscount Nuffield, reorganised his motor vehicle companies in 1938, which by then included not only Morris Motors and MG, but also Wolseley and Riley (bicycle company founded in Coventry in 1890 and making cars since 1913), into the Nuffield Organisation. In 1939 the top producers were Morris: 27%, Austin: 24%, Ford: 15%, Standard (founded in Coventry in 1903): 13%, Rootes (which had acquired Humber and Sunbeam): 11%, Vauxhall (building cars since 1903, acquired by GM in 1925): 10%.
1939 to 1955
During the Second World War car production in the UK gave way to commercial and military vehicle production, and many motor vehicle plants were converted to aircraft and aero engine production. Following the war the government controlled the supply of steel, and priority was given to supplying foreign-revenue-raising export businesses. In 1947 steel was available only to businesses which exported at least 75% of their production. This, coupled with the inevitably limited competition from continental Europe, and with demand for new vehicles in America and in Australia being greater than the American industry alone could supply, resulted in British vehicle exports reaching record levels and the UK became the world's largest motor vehicle exporter. In 1937 Britain provided 15% of world vehicle exports, by 1950, a year in which 75% of British car production and 60% of its commercial vehicle production was exported, Britain provided 52% of the world's exported vehicles.
This situation remained until the mid-1950s, by which time the American industry production had caught up with American demand, and European production was recovering. By 1952 the American owned producers in the UK (Ford and GM's Vauxhall) had between them a 29% share of the British market, which exceeded the share of either of Britain's two top domestically owned manufacturers. It was in that context that Viscount Nuffield agreed to the merger of his company, the Nuffield Organisation, with Austin, to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC). Thus BMC, comprising Austin, Morris, MG, Riley and Wolseley was formed in 1952 and commanded a 40% share of the British market. German production was increasing yearly, and by 1953 it had exceeded that of France, and by 1956 it had overtaken that of Britain.
1955 to 1968
By 1955 five companies produced 90% of Britain's motor vehicle output: BMC, Ford, Rootes, Standard-Triumph and Vauxhall. Of the dozen or so smaller producers Rover and Jaguar were strong niche producers. By 1960 Britain had dropped from being the world's second largest motor vehicle producer into third place. Labour-intensive methods, and wide model ranges hindered opportunities to reduce manufacturing costs – Britain's unit costs were higher than those of their major Japanese, European and American competitors. Although rationalisation of motor vehicle companies had started, full integration did not occur. BMC continued to produce vehicles under the marque names of its incorporated companies, many of which competed with each other. Standard-Triumph's attempts to reduce costs by embracing a modern volume production strategy almost led to their bankruptcy in 1960, the result was that they were purchased by the commercial vehicle manufacturing company Leyland Motors. In 1966, BMC and Jaguar came together, to form British Motor Holdings (BMH). Leyland had achieved some sales success with Leyland-Triumph and in 1967 it acquired Rover. By 1966 Britain had slipped to become the world's fourth largest motor vehicle producer. Following a gradual process which had begun in 1964, Chrysler UK (CUK) had fully acquired Rootes by 1967.
In the context of BMC's wide, complex, and expensive-to-produce model range, Ford's conventionally designed Cortina challenging for the number one spot in the domestic market, and the heavy reliance of the British economy on motor vehicle production, in 1968 the Government brokered the merger of the successful Leyland-Triumph-Rover and the struggling BMH, to form Europe's fourth-largest car maker, the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC). The new company announced its intention to invest in a new volume car range, and to equip its factories with the latest capital-intensive production methods. Notable British cars of this era included the 1959 Mini — designed by Alec Issigonis for the British Motor Corporation, and Malcolm Sayer's 1961 E-type Jaguar.
1968 to 1987
By 1968 UK motor vehicle production was dominated by four companies: BLMC, Chrysler (UK), Ford, and Vauxhall (GM). The Rootes Group had taken on the name Chrysler UK after its takeover by the American car giant Chrysler, which had also taken over French carmaker Simca.
The national champion, BLMC, was handicapped in its attempts to modernise by internal rivalries. Unattractive new products, retention of legacy marques and models, labour disputes, quality issues, supplier problems and inefficient use of new equipment thwarted the dream of efficient high volume production. Increased overseas competition, arising from lowered tariffs and membership of the European Union, and high unit costs, led to low profits, which in turn jeopardised investment plans. Japanese cars, particularly the Datsun badged cars built by Nissan enjoyed a particularly strong surge in popularity during the first half of the 1970s, while French carmaker Renault and West German carmaker Volkswagen also enjoyed an upturn on the British market.
BLMC's share of the UK market dropped from 40% to 32% between 1971 and 1973, with its new Morris Marina and Austin Allegro family cars selling well on the British market but not proving popular on many export markets, with the motoring media being critical of the styling of these new models as well as questions regarding the level of quality.
By 1974 Britain's position as a world motor vehicle manufacturer had dropped to sixth place. In 1974, both BLMC and Chrysler UK appealed to the Government for financial help. The Government rejected the idea of a BLMC/CUK merger, and instead CUK received a loan and BLMC was subjected to a series of studies to determine its future. The Government's official BLMC enquiry, led by Lord Ryder, suggested that BLMC's strategy was sound, but required huge Government investment to improve productivity by providing mechanisation and improving labour relations.
Despite the effective nationalisation of BLMC as British Leyland (BL) in 1975, the recovery never happened. Chrysler sold its European interests (including those in the UK) to Peugeot in 1978, to allow it to concentrate on its own difficulties in America. The UK interests were renamed Peugeot-Talbot.
As in most other developed countries, the 1970s saw major changes to the cars produced in Britain. Front-wheel drive, which had been pioneered by BMC on several new models between 1959 and 1965, now became a common feature on family cars after decades of producing only rear-wheel drive models. The hatchback bodystyle, which had debuted in Europe on the French Renault 16 in 1965, became more popular.
By the end of the 1970s Ford, Peugeot-Talbot and Vauxhall (GM) were well integrated with their parent companies' other European operations. BL stood alone in the UK as an increasingly junior player. As part of the drive for increased productivity in the late 1970s, BL reduced its workforce and number of plants, and strived to centralise its management activities. The city of Coventry suffered particularly badly, with many thousands becoming unemployed after the closure of the Triumph car factory in the city in 1980.
In 1979, BL struck a collaboration deal with Honda to share the development and production of a new mid-sized car (Triumph Acclaim/Honda Ballade), which was launched in 1981. The new car combined Honda engine and transmission designs with a BL body. The next plan was the work on a new luxury car together, the end product being the Rover 800 Series, which arrived in 1986.
Although the UK political scene changed in 1979 with the election of the Thatcher government, the Government continued to support BL with funds for the development of a new mass-market model range (Mini Metro, Maestro, Montego and another Honda collaboration the Rover 800), which were all launched between 1980 and 1986.
By the mid 1980s, front-wheel drive was now the rule rather than the exception on mass market cars, with most new models having a hatchback bodystyle as at least an option. Although Ford had adopted front-wheel drive for its new Spanish built Fiesta supermini in 1976 and the third generation Escort in 1980, it had curiously retained rear-wheel drive for its larger Sierra (the Cortina replacement) in 1982.
Ford had now divided its European operations between its British factories and other European plants in Spain and West Germany. General Motors had started importing some of its West German and Belgian built Opel products to Britain to be badged as Vauxhalls, and by 1983 its Nova supermini (badged as the Opel Corsa on the continent) was built solely in its Spanish factory. Peugeot was dividing production of most of the Talbot badged vehicles between the Ryton plant near Coventry (the Linwood plant in Scotland closed in 1981) and its French factories by the early 1980s, and started producing its own models at Coventry in 1985 after deciding to axe the Talbot marque due to falling sales.
Foreign carmakers continued to gain ground on the British market during the 1980s, with the likes of Renault, Peugeot, Citroen (France), Volvo (Sweden), Volkswagen (West Germany) and Fiat (Italy) proving particularly popular.
The decade also saw the arrival of purpose-built people carriers on the British market, starting with the Japanese Mitsubishi Space Wagon in 1984, and then the market-leading Renault Espace in 1985, but by the end of the decade this type of vehicle still had only a very small share of the British market and there were still no British-built people carriers available, although a few seven-seater estate models including Austin Rover's Montege were being produced.
1987 to 2001
In July 1986, Nissan became the first Japanese carmaker to set up a production facility in Europe, when it opened a new plant in Sunderland. The plant initially produced the Bluebird and from 1990 its successor, the Primera, with the MK2 Micra joining it in 1992. Toyota opened a new plant in Burnaston near Derby at the beginning of 1992.
Peugeot started production of the 309 hatchback at Ryton (originally a Rootes Group factory) in January 1986, followed by the 405 at the end of 1987. As the 1990s progressed, production of the 306 and 206 also began at Ryton.
Honda's venture with Austin Rover/Rover Group saw a number of different designs shared between the two marques. The venture came to an end in February 1994 when British Aerospace sold Rover Group to the German carmaker BMW for £800 million. The takeover meant that, for the first time in 112 years, the United Kingdom no longer had a British-owned volume car maker. BMW's ownership of the Rover Group saw the development of several newer, more upmarket models, giving the British brand an image to match that of its parent company. BMW also revived the MG brand in 1995 on a new affordable sports car, the MGF, as well as strengthening Land Rover's position in the off-roader market. In March 2000 BMW controversially announced the break-up of the Rover Group. It retained the rights to the Mini marque, while selling Land Rover to Ford. The MG and Rover marques were sold to the Phoenix Consortium, who branded the remains of the group as MG Rover and concentrated all production at the Longbridge plant. After the split from Rover, Honda continued making the Civic range in the UK at a new plant in Swindon.
Ford acquired Aston Martin for an undisclosed sum in September 1987 and Jaguar for US$2.38 billion in November 1989. Production of the new small Jaguar, the X type, started at Halewood in late 2000. By the end of the century, Ford had also acquired Land Rover.
In 1998 Vickers plc put Rolls-Royce Motors, including Bentley, up for auction. Volkswagen Group won the auction with a bid of US$780 million, but Rolls-Royce plc, which had the right to block a transfer of the Rolls-Royce name to non-British owners, agreed to sell the rights to BMW for US$65 million. It was subsequently agreed that control of the Rolls-Royce marque would pass from Volkswagen to BMW in 2003.
In 1995, Ford finally entered the decade-old people carrier market with its Galaxy, which was built in Portugal alongside the identical Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra as part of a venture between Ford and Volkswagen. Vauxhall entered this sector of the market a year later with the American-built Sintra, but this was not popular with British buyers and was discontinued after just three years when the smaller, German-built Zafira was launched, and proved far more popular than Vauxhall's original entry into the MPV market.
The affordable sports car market enjoyed a revival in the 1990s after going into virtual hibernation in the 1980s. Sparked by the popularity of the Japanese-built Mazda MX5 after its launch in 1989, Rover began development on a new sports car in the early 1990s, finally launching the MG F two-seater roadster in 1995, 15 years after the demise of the last volume MG sports cars. The 1996 Lotus Elise also enjoyed relatively strong sales in this market sector, as did the Vauxhall VX220 (based on the Elise) which was launched in 2000. Ford, which had exited the sports car market by 1987 with the demise of the Capri to concentrate on faster versions of its best-selling hatchbacks and saloons, returned to this market sector in 1994 with the American-built Probe, and then enjoyed more success with its smaller Puma between 1997 and 2002.
2001 to 2011
In May 2000 Ford announced that passenger car assembly as its Dagenham plant would cease in 2002, ending 90 years of Ford passenger car assembly in the UK. At the same time Ford announced that it would invest US$500 million in the expansion of a diesel engine factory at the site, making Dagenham its largest diesel engine center worldwide and creating about 500 new jobs to offset the 1,900 lost in vehicle assembly. In December 2004 Ford announced a further investment of £169 million in the Dagenham plant, increasing annual output to one million diesel engines.
The closure of Vauxhall's Luton car assembly plant in March 2003 left Ellesmere Port as the sole Vauxhall assembly plant remaining in Britain. General Motors also retained the former Bedford works in Luton for producing vans such as the Vivaro and the Movano as well as Renault and Nissan badged variants. In April 2007, it was confirmed that the Ellesmere Port would produce the next generation Astra from 2010.
MG Rover spent the early part of the 2000s investigating possible ventures with other carmakers in order to develop a new range of cars. Proposed links with foreign organisations including Malaysian carmaker Proton failed to materialise, and by late 2004 Chinese carmaker SAIC Motor had shown an interest in taking over the Longbridge-based firm – which was now hundreds of millions of pounds in debt. Talks broke down and the firm went into receivership in April 2005 with the loss of more than 6,000 jobs. Three months later, the firm's assets were purchased by another Chinese carmaker – Nanjing Automobile – and Longbridge partially re-opened over the summer of 2007 with an initial workforce of around 250 preparing to restart production of the MG TF which was relaunched in August 2008.
In April 2006 Peugeot closed its Ryton plant and moved 206 production to Slovakia. In 2007, Ford sold Aston Martin to a British-led Consortium backed by Middle East investors, retaining a small stake in the company and agreeing to continue the supply of components including engines. In 2008 Ford sold Jaguar Land Rover to Tata Motors of India for £1.15 billion. In November 2009, Dutch sportscar maker Spyker Cars announced that it would be moving production from Zeewolde to Whitley, Coventry, and UK production began in February 2010.
In March 2010 McLaren Automotive unveiled its MP4-12C model, alongside plans to produce around 4,000 cars per year at its Woking factory by the middle of the decade. At the Paris Motor Show in September 2010 Lotus Cars unveiled five new models due to go on sale by 2016, alongside plans for an investment of £770 million over 10 years, the complete redevelopment of its Hethel factory and an increase in production from under 3,000 cars per year to 6,000 to 7,000. In December 2010 it was announced that Renault had sold its remaining 25% shareholding in its eponymous Formula 1 team to Lotus Cars, and that the team would be renamed Lotus Renault in 2011.
2011 to present
In January 2011 BMW announced that it would be extending the Mini range with the launch of two new two-door sports crossover vehicles based on the Mini Paceman concept car, with a coupe version to enter production in 2011 and a roadster in 2012. In March 2011 Jaguar Land Rover announced that it would be hiring an additional 1,500 staff at its Halewood plant, and signed over £2 billion of supply contracts with UK-based companies, to enable production of its new Range Rover Evoque model. In April 2011 the MG Motor subsidiary of SAIC Motor announced that mass production had resumed at the Longbridge plant, as the first MG 6 to be produced in the United Kingdom came off the production line. In May 2011 Jaguar unveiled plans to build the C-X75 petrol-electric hybrid supercar in the UK from 2013, with production to be in association with Williams F1; Jaguar announced the cancellation of the project in December 2012 due to the ongoing global economic crisis.
In May 2011, Aston Martin Lagonda confirmed that it was planning to revive the Lagonda marque, with the launch of two or three new models. In an interview with Reuters in the same month, Carl-Peter Forster, the Chief Executive of Tata Motors, revealed that Jaguar Land Rover would be investing over £5 billion in product development over the succeeding five years.
In June, Nissan announced that the replacement for its Qashqai model would be designed and built in the UK, in a total investment of £192 million safeguarding around 6,000 jobs. In June BMW announced an investment of £500 million in the UK over the subsequent three years as part of an expansion of the Mini range to seven models. In September 2011, Jaguar Land Rover confirmed that it would be investing £355 million in the construction of a new engine plant near Wolverhampton, to manufacture a new family of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. Later in the same month it was announced that the Jensen marque would be revived, with a new version of the Interceptor to be built by CPP Holdings at the former Jaguar factory Browns Lane in Coventry. In November, Toyota announced plans to make the UK its sole European manufacturing base for hatchback versions of its next C-segment family car, resulting in the investment of over £100 million in its Burnaston plant and the creation of around 1,500 new jobs.
In September 2013 it was announced that a new National Automotive Innovation Campus would be built at the University of Warwick's main campus at a cost of £100 million, with £45 million to be contributed by Jaguar Land Rover.
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(* estimated figure)
The Financial Times has forecast that annual UK vehicle production will exceed its historic peak level (achieved in 1972) by 2017. Their forecasted production levels for 2014 to 2017 are: 2014: 1,724,000 units; 2015: 1,864,000 units; 2016: 1,993,000 units and 2017: 2,062,000 units.
It has been estimated that there are about 4,000 companies in the UK involved in the manufacturing industry related to motorsport.
- Caterham F1 – Hingham, Norfolk
- Force India – Silverstone, Northamptonshire
- Lotus F1 – Enstone, Oxfordshire
- McLaren – Woking, Surrey
- Marussia F1 – Banbury, Oxfordshire
- Mercedes AMG Formula One Team – Brackley, Northamptonshire
- Red Bull Racing – Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
- Williams F1 – Grove, Oxfordshire
Formula One engine suppliers:
- Cosworth – Northampton, Northamptonshire
- Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains – Brixworth, Northamptonshire
Other major motorsports teams and organisations:
- Carlin Motorsport - Farnham, England
- Ford World Rally Team – Cumbria, England
- M-Sport – Cockermouth, Cumbria
- Prodrive – Banbury, Oxfordshire (Runs Aston Martin Racing, formerley Subaru's WRC Team and Ford Performance Vehicles)
- RML Group - Wellingborough, England
- Strakka Racing - Northamptonshire, England
- Sumo Power - Rye, East Sussex, England
- Team Dynamics - Pershore, England
- Triple Eight Race Engineering
Currently inactive British automotive marques include: Allard, Alvis, Armstrong Siddeley, Austin, Autovia, Dawson, DeLorean, Gilbern, Gordon-Keeble, Healey, Hillman, Humber, Jensen, Jowett, Lanchester, Lea-Francis, Morris, Napier, Reliant, Riley, Rover, Singer, Standard, Sterling, Sunbeam, Sunbeam-Talbot, Talbot, Triumph, TVR (production halted), Vanden Plas, Wolseley Motors Limited.
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