While the big fish of the country's car industry have fallen into foreign hands, the minnows are growing from strength to strength, writes James Ruppert

AS ANOTHER British car manufacturer falls into foreign hands, following the takeover of Rolls-Royce by Volkswagen, the largest Brit- owned manufacturer of motor vehicles is now a company you have probably never heard of.

"I believe we have that distinction," says Terry Fryer, of LTI. "But I can assure you that we won't let it go to our heads."

We may not know LTI, but all of us will have seen, or ridden in, one of its vehicles. London Taxis International built more than 3,000 taxis this year, making it easily the biggest automotive fish in the tiniest of pools. The list of British car makers swallowed up by the foreign competition is long and depressing.

AC, the oldest-surviving British company, established in 1908, was bought last year by South African entrepreneur Alan Lubinsky. Ford bought Aston Martin in 1987 and has also owned Jaguar since 1989. Lotus was picked up by Proton Cars of Malaysia in 1996. Land Rover and Rover were bought by BMW in 1994, and General Motors bought Vauxhall way back in 1925.

Whatever happened to the British motor industry? It is still here, but different - and much smaller.

Ironically, as a motor manufacturer Britain has never been healthier. Although car production peaked at 1.92 million in 1972, that was also the time when poor management, underdeveloped products and quality vehicle imports all conspired to put the industry into freefall.

Recovery started only when foreign ownership was encouraged by Margaret Thatcher's market reforms. Nissan's factories in Sunderland and Toyota's Derbyshire plant have become among the most productive in Europe. In 1957 we built 861,000 cars; 30 years later that figure had increased to 1.7 million.

In global terms, Britain still has a huge influence, with well-placed British engineers and designers throughout the industry. Pre-eminent among them is the Scots-born Alex Trotman, who runs Ford. And then there is motor racing. Formula One and the American IndyCar equivalent are dominated by British companies and cars.

Meanwhile, some brave souls continue to make uncompromisingly British cars. Strongest of the survivors and in production terms the biggest car maker in the UK is TVR, which certainly doesn't build taxis. "A British car should be a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car, painted green," says Ben Samuelson of TVR.

"Our export markets are in Surrey and Hampshire," he jokes. "The turning point was 1985, when we decided against expert advice to concentrate on what British buyers wanted." The firm aims to build up to 2,000 TVRs this year from their unfashionable Blackpool location.

Another company that famously ignored the expert advice is Morgan. Established in 1909, it makes Thirties-shaped, Nineties-powered, characterful, timber chassis, aluminium- bodied sports cars. On the BBC TV programme Troubleshooter, former ICI chairman Sir John Harvey-Jones urged the company to slash waiting lists and boost production.

As the early Nineties recession loomed, such a strategy would have been precisely the wrong thing to do. The hand-built Morgan is still in family hands and Peter Morgan, son of the founder, insists "This is the only British car company to have made a profit every year since 1945".

Closest in spirit to Rolls-Royce and Bentley is former aircraft builder Bristol, which now makes bespoke, six-figure-sum luxury cars.

Caterham, which sells about 750 sports cars a year, is run by the father- and-son team of Simon and Graham Nearn. It is the same at Marcos Cars with Jem and Chris Marsh, who produce 100 cars a year. Chris Smith and his family run Westfield, selling 400 cars a year, while Jonathan Heynes at Reliant Motors produces up to 700 three-wheelers each year.

Although survival as an independent car company is precarious, the idea of building a British car is still appealing. Last week Creative, a Redditch- based design and manufacturing group, announced plans to relaunch the famous Jensen marque. On the evidence, all they need to succeed is a single-minded owner, no meddling shareholders and a unique, ideally sporting, car.

In British motor manufacturing these days, it pays to be small.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
business
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
News
i100
Sport
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Lily James in ‘Cinderella’
film
  • Get to the point
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

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - Infrastructure / VMWare - Hertfordshire

    £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established industry leading business is l...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Hertfordshire -Large Established Business

    £22000 - £28000 per annum + study support, gym: Ashdown Group: A large busines...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss