11 March 2019

Every cloud has a silver lining - maybe

Visiting the Geneva Motor Show last week, an English automotive executive could have been forgiven for getting rather depressed; so many OEMs missing and then news of plant closures and further consolidation and joint ventures, all of which are threatening to hack the UK car industry to pieces.

But look more closely and there are wonderful green shoots of innovation, traditional craftsmanship, class-leading sportscar makers and world-beating motorsport engineering. Morgan chose the show to announce a massive injection of capital from InvestIndustry, a worthy and benign parent who will give the hand-crafted sportscar maker the funds it has needed for a long time, to put a state-of-the-art new chassis into production, boost its global PR and marketing campaigns, and simply make more cars to meet demand and bring down the famous waiting list.

McLaren go from strength to strength with world-class supercars which bring in terrific revenue and buttress their racing efforts; it won’t be long before we see at least a class win by a McLaren, and it is still the last race car that was driven to Le Mans, completed the 24 Hour race, came 2nd in class and 3rd overall and then was driven home on the road. The British OEM is working on a successor to its P1, this may be an ultralight hybrid hypercar with a central driving position introduced in time for a racing version to qualify for the 2021 street-car-based Le Mans prototype category.

With the Honda Swindon factory closing, and BMW MINI Oxford under severe threat, there is cause for concern but there may be more good news - while it does make sense for the fast-moving base hatchback MINIs to be made in Europe after Brexit as UK sales have fallen badly and will continue to do so as runout models make way for a new MINI that will likely be built with and possibly by a European partner, some MINI models should stay at Oxford; the more profitable lines such as the Countryman and the upcoming electric Mini would be profitable vehicles to make in the UK.

Even more positively, there are strong rumours in media circles that BMW may consider building the new 1 Series hatchback at Oxford. This is more sensible than it might at first seem. The new entry-level BMW will be based on the front-wheel-drive FAAR platform which is a development of the present Mini baseplate this would ease making the BMW at Plant Oxford. The other factor is that the pain of Brexit-induced tariffs and border problems would be eased by the healthy sales of the 1 Series in the UK and engines could be sourced from BMW’s Hams Hall factory near Birmingham and exterior body panels from Swindon.

As I have said before, UK PLC needs to concentrate and consolidate - harness our highly educated and innovative engineers and designers and reward and respect our workforce - and bring together all the factors that made Britain the birthplace of the first Industrial Revolution, to benefit from the fourth Industrial Revolution. This is where we can be at or near the top of the game in emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), additive manufacturing/3D printing and fully autonomous vehicles.

Simon Duval Smith

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