Motoring: How the British won then gave it away

There are many good things about Barbados, not least that it is one of the few countries where McDonald's failed: the locals cite their predilection for healthy food and their preference for poultry and fish over beef as prime reasons why the first (and only) McDonald's hamburger restaurant in Barbados, just outside Bridgetown, closed six months after opening.

A more important plus about the eastern-most Caribbean island is that they're fond of Brits. They like and, what's more unusual these days, respect, the Royal Family. They erected plaques and monuments to the 300- odd years of British rule after being granted independence. And the island is full of places with names like St James, the Scotland district and St Michael. There's even a Trafalgar Square, complete with Nelson looking smug after whipping the Frogs and the Spaniards, shortly before asking Hardy for a goodbye kiss.

Years ago, when given the chance, they also used to buy British. You can see the evidence in the (many) scrapyards dotted through the island: old Fords and Morrises and Austins and Hillmans in their final stages of decomposition, as they return to earth. Some old stagers battle on. Although I went to Barbados for the sun and the sea, not to spot cars, I did a quick exercise on the way back to the airport, identifying the first 100 cars I saw. Two were British: an old Cortina, with not long to go, and a Hillman Hunter, also on its last legs. Far more significant, 91 of the 100 cars I saw were Japanese (for the anoraks among you, there were three Korean cars, a Malaysian Proton, an American Jeep, plus a Peugeot and a Citroen).

Twenty or 30 years ago, of course, 90 percent of the cars would have been British. The same is, and was, true of scores of ex-British colonies dotted around the globe, from the Cook Islands to Kenya. We owned their car markets. And then, in one of the greatest industrial suicides in history, we threw it all away. And it wasn't just in little countries, with tiny car markets, either.

I spent my childhood in Australia, where throughout the Sixties my dad was PR and advertising director for BMC-cum-BL-cum Leyland Australia. The British company was the biggest-selling importer. Minis and Morris 1100s were prized as inexpensive runabouts. Rovers, Triumphs and big Austins were more sophisticated and comfortable than the crude locally made Holdens and Fords. Land Rovers dominated the important 4 x 4 market. MGs were the best-selling sports cars, helped by their fold-back roofs (Aussies have always loved the sun) and their mechanical ruggedness.

I remember, with great clarity, my dad going to a business meeting in Britain in the late Sixties, when the Japanese were first starting to attack the Australian car market with their ornately styled, tinny, cheap little cars. Australia was the first Western car market they hit in a big way: it was big enough to give them an idea about whether Westerners would accept their wares but small enough so that a failure would not have resulted in an international loss of face.

My dad said to the gathered senior worthies of BL that the Japanese were a big threat, were starting to steal sales, and that unless they got off their butts and started to improve quality and value-for-money then they could, Hardy-style, kiss goodbye to it all. And a BL guy stood up and said they didn't consider the Japanese a threat. Simple as that. (And, parenthetically, don't be such a silly colonial git.)

My dad went back to Australia and resigned. Five years later, Leyland closed its Sydney assembly plant and, effectively, pulled out of the Australian market, handing it to the Japanese. The Japanese haven't looked back.

Leyland (now Rover) has. It now has a tiny operation out there, selling Land Rovers and, starting next year, new MGFs. One day they hope to sell Rover cars again.

During this centennial year of the British motor industry, it's become fashionable to mourn Rover's - "the nation's car maker" - loss of primacy in the home car market (its market share is now barely a third of what it was). But, to my mind, throwing away all the goodwill that existed towards Britain and British goods in scores of markets around the world - some tiny, some big - through shoddy workmanship and inept management was a much greater sin.

The irony is that Rover now makes good and reliable cars again: cars well suited to international markets. But it'll never get a chance to fight for market leadership again in the ex-British colonies. The Japanese are too well entrenched. And, unlike Rover, the Japanese are not stupid enough to throw it all away.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

    Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

    £16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

    £27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor