Automotive industry throughout the years


This is part of the UK Manufacturing series. Previous posts: UK Steel, UK Aerospace, Manufacturing in Birmingham

This week we focus on the automotive industry. It is another important part of manufacturing history of Britain. To find out more about the rise of automobile giants and great successes as well as issues surrounding car production, keep reading!

From first British car to Ford factory

The history of British automotive industry starts in the late 19th century. In 1880s Gottlieb Daimer patented high-speed petrol engine, which was used by Frederic Simms, a British engineer. Simms expanded his inventory of various patents and created The Daimer Motor Syndicate Ltd. Together with Evelyn Ellis, Simms successfully used a motorcar for a long distance journey. This was first such event in Britain and took place between Southampton and Malvern. The company was later bought by H J Lawson. He then started a serial production in an unused cotton mill in Coventry. The first car fully produced in the UK is usually attributed to Richard Stephens. He worked for several years in the US and upon his return to Britain, manufactured 12 cars and buses on his production line. At that time certain restrictions were introduced by Locomotive Acts, such as the low speed in towns, which was later set higher.

Wolsley Motors Ltd was set up in Birmingham and until 1913 was the biggest UK-based car factory. Couple of hundred makes arose in early days, but only half of them survived by 1913. That year Henry Ford opened his first factory in Manchester. This became the new biggest car manufacturing site with 7310 cars made that year. Wolseley, Humber, Rover and Sunbeam were other largest factories.

Leadership and big changes

World War I shifted trends in the motor industry from cars to innovations required during the war. UK then became the largest European car manufacturer in 1932. 379,310 passengers and 113,946 commercial vehicles drove off assembly lines in 1937. Automotive industry was booming. World War II again required military components. In 1950s American businesses owned several UK-based companies, such as Ford and Vauxhall. British Motor Company (BMC) was created. Five member companies had 40% share of the domestic market. With other four companies, they shared 90% of the market. At that time successful Rover and Jaguar were only few of the smaller automakers.

In 1959 BMC introduced Mini, the vehicle that changed small car industry, one of the best selling domestic cars for over 20 years. Not too long after, UK fell behind two other largest producers, United States and Germany. This was mainly due to higher costs involved. Smaller companies, including Jaguar and Rover, kept growing. One of the most iconic sports cars, Jaguar E-Type, was in production from 1961. Other sports cars were also highly anticipated at that time. Cars produced worldwide, such as the German Volkswagen or the French Renault, were well received by the market.

Automotive industry in the recent years 

By the mid-1970s, UK was the 6th biggest car manufacturer and largest companies applied for help from the Government. Various companies were integrated together with other European brands. Car factories were closing. 21st century has brought many changes. After 90 years of car assembly in Britain, Ford decided to close its passenger car plant and focus on siesel engines instead. Ford sold previously acquired Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover.

In the last 6 years, and especially since 2014 investments and new projects were added to the automotive map of Britain. Big players, such as Nissan, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Toyota announced investments and so new jobs. 2015 was the best year for automotive industry in the last 10 years. EU demand gets higher, export is the biggest ever with more than 100 destinations worldwide. 1,595,697 vehicles were made with production being 3.9% higher than in previous years, which was considered best since 2007.

Future and expectations

There are over 3,000 companies in the UK automotive industry. They employ about 800,000 people across various sectors. Plans for National Automotive Innovation Campus in Warwick were announced in 2013. It will be based on University of Warwick campus with £45mln investment from Jaguar Land Rover. Comprising of engineering hall, labs, design workshops and meeting and library spaces this would be the main research centre in the country. Surprisingly, in regions with big plants, such as Nissan, Toyota, Jaguar Land Rover, majority voted to leave the EU, despite companies speaking out about possible issues following Brexit. The problems that industry may face is lack of free-movement in Europe, where other factories are based. Fees on parts and access to engineering talent may also be part of the Brexit aftermath. It should not, however, make buying cars more expensive from the consumer point of view. Prognosis by the Financial Times predicts that historical peak of produced vehicles per year will be achieved in 2017.

SEE ALSO: Automatic car parks – dating back to 1905 but still almost non-existent

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