UK automotive industry is constructing a comeback

Posted on 29 Aug 2013 by The Manufacturer

What do a Range Rover Sport, a double-decker bus, and a Jaguar F Type all have in common? The answer is surprisingly straightforward, says Peter Rolton chairman of Rolton Group.

In typical Top Gear style, the final episode of the show’s 20th series put on quite a show when it was broadcast at the beginning of August: Clarkson, Hammond, and May rounded off the summer by bringing together a pageant of vehicles great and small from across the country to congregate in The Mall, London.

This impressive display, which included the aforementioned Range Rover, bus, and Jaguar, was an act of homage to the often-forgotten UK automotive manufacturing industry, which provided the thread through which every car, tractor, F1 car, and lorry (amongst others) present that day was connected.

It is not often that the spotlight shines on our manufacturing sector, and many of the facts pointed out by the show’s presenters would have surprised its audience: as Clarkson says, ‘today, a new car rolls off a production line somewhere in Britain every twenty seconds’, and our numbers are way up over those of other European countries, whose figures continue to slip.  In fact, reports this week state that manufacturing activity in the UK is at a two-year high and further growth is expected in the next quarter.

So what has made the difference here, and why is our recovery emerging so much more readily than elsewhere? There are a number of contributing factors, of course, but what comes up time and again is the value placed on quality. The UK is by no means the cheapest place to build on a large scale, and indeed several companies have flocked to less expensive shores to cut their construction costs.

This is not, however, how everyone does business; what has kept the world’s most prestigious brands in Britain is its well-deserved reputation for skill, its culture of innovation, and its commitment to maintaining the highest standards.

To this end, we have seen a ‘transformation of Britain’s automotive industry from low-skilled volume production to high-end niche manufacturing,’ and a prediction by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) asserting that ‘automotive manufacturing levels are set grow to pre-recession levels by 2014.’

The industry is making sure it doesn’t get left behind in the race to go green, either. Despite the apparent conflict between traditional means of transportation and sustainability, the twinning of these sectors is becoming increasingly common and has already been used to great effect; carbon strategies, waste-to-energy plants, and PV arrays are becoming a standard part of the process when building new facilities.

In addition, the industry has now joined forces with the Government to invest £1bn in a research centre that will focus on the development of low-carbon initiatives, carrying our vehicles through into a future where petrol and diesel engines are predicted to have disappeared by 2040.

All of these points lead me to think that perhaps it’s time for the nation to take a fresh glance at an industry that should be applauded for its forward-thinking and its substantial contribution to the regrowth of our wider economy.

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