We never manufacture things any more…

A common refrain about the state of the world today is the economic emphasis on services rather than manufactured products – the cry that we don’t make ‘stuff’ anymore, we just import it all from low-cost countries and the only jobs are in shops or giving acupuncture to dogs with wealthy owners.

But take a look at the news about British car manufacturing in the Financial Times today. Production of cars and commerical vehicles has jumped to over 1.4m vehicles in 2010 – that’s up 28% on the year before.

But it’s still not like the good old days is it? The Rovers and British Leyland marques that dominated the world?

Well, the absolute peak of vehicle production in the UK was in 1970 when just over 2m units were produced. That’s right, just 2m. Not much more than today is it? And by 1980, car and commercial vehicle production in the UK had slumped to 1.3m units – less than today’s figures.

But they are all foreign brands, none of them are British anymore might seem the next response…

But those companies – like Nissan, Toyota, Honda, VW, GM, and Ford – are all employing local British workers to build their vehicles in Britain, so those companies are creating British jobs and investing in the industrial manufacturing heritage of the nation.

Who complains about Santander being one of the dominant high street banks today (and not British)? Or Green & Blacks chocolate being the dominant brand of organic confectionary (and not British)? Or that cup of (Indian) Tetley tea?

The world has certainly changed since the automotive industry was all about local design, local production, and local sales, but it can’t be said that Britain doesn’t build anything these days. Britain is still building and exporting, it’s just not always British brands that are exported from Britain.
Morris Oxford

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