Motoring: Made in Britain, conceived overseas

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Indy Lifestyle Online
WE'VE RECENTLY seen a new Jaguar, a new Rover, a new Land Rover Discovery, and a deal to save the Longbridge factory in Birmingham seems imminent.

But don't get too excited. While Britain remains a major manufacturer of cars, our future as an engineering nerve-centre for ground-breaking new models has never looked bleaker. Increasingly, "our" new cars are being conceived and developed overseas.

Let's start with Jaguar, probably Britain's best-loved car maker, and the only home-grown manufacturer with much to cheer about right now. Its new S-type has underpinnings which are as much Ford (USA) as Jaguar (UK) and its V6 engine is imported from a Ford factory in Cleveland, Ohio. In other words, it is the most non-British Jaguar in history.

The next new Jaguar model, codenamed X400, is due in 2001, and it will compete with the BMW 3-series. It will be the smallest and cheapest Jaguar ever. Its underpinnings will be shared with the new Ford Mondeo, which is largely engineered in Germany. And its V6 engines will be imported from Ford in America.

The Range Rover, probably the Rover Group's most respected model, is replaced in 2000. The new one uses the suspension, floorpan and transmission of the just-released BMW X5 four-wheel drive model. It also uses BMW engines. Technically, it will be more German than British.

The new Rover 75 is largely British, but it could well be the last Rover saloon primarily engineered in the UK. There is a strong chance that all upcoming Rovers will be engineered with much more foreign input, as BMW searches for technical partners to ease costs at Rover. The new Mini, due in late 2000, uses an engine developed by Chrysler in America and built in Brazil.

Rolls-Royce is now owned by VW, and the name passes to BMW in 2003, after a complicated deal recently thrashed out at a German golf course between the bosses of BMW and VW. BMW has confirmed that the next new Rolls-Royce model, due in 2003, will be engineered by BMW in Germany, although it will be built in Britain. As with the current Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph, it will have a BMW engine.

VW will be left with Bentley. It is working on a new Bentley saloon, pictures of which have been splashed around the specialist motoring press. That car will use a Volkswagen engine, and will be largely the result of German brainpower.

New Land Rover models will invariably be developed more and more by BMW in Germany, partly because BMW is convinced that its engineers are cleverer than Rover's. (On recent evidence, it is hard to argue with that.)

A much-mooted new Austin-Healey sports car is likely to use the BMW Z3 roadster underpinnings and a BMW engine. It is also likely to be built at a BMW factory in South Carolina, USA. It may be "Trad British" in style, but there won't be much else British about it.

Vauxhall, of course, now engineers all its new cars in Germany. Ford has moved most of its senior European engineers and managers to Germany, too, and Japanese-badged cars built in Britain (Nissan, Toyota and Honda) are all conceived by Japanese minds, with the odd technical input from those companies' engineering satellites in Germany or Belgium.

Meanwhile, UK car production continues to grow, New Labour pats itself on the back for overseeing "the return to health of a crucial industry", and our union leaders become more and more moderate in their desperate attempts to safeguard blue-collar jobs.

And while this is going on, all the top car-industry jobs, which require a good education and good qualifications, are being quietly transferred overseas.

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