The Emperor's New Clothes (20/01/13)

Poor old British car industry, run off the road by sleeker models. But wait! David Randall hears it revving up...


Slip on the mesh-backed driving gloves, adjust the Terry-Thomas tweed cap in the mirror, and rev up the engine of nostalgia. Time for a spin down the leafy lanes of lost British pride. Put the key in the ignition, clear the throat, and off he goes, the voice of national decline.

"Our car industry? God, she was a beauty, old boy. Used to go like the clappers. Wonderful names there were. Allard and Alvis, Hillman and Humber, Jensen and Jowett, Lanchester and Lagonda, Swallow and Sunbeam, and, of course, dear old Armstrong Siddeley. All gone now, all gone.

"Workers got bolshy, and within a few years the entire manufacturing base was a write-off. Walk-outs and wildcats, stoppages and strikes. Course, chaps in the overalls were all right, Jack – till they woke one day and found they'd picketed themselves out of a job. What did they expect? Shirkmanship instead of workmanship. Marx instead of marques. The British car industry ended up in the breaker's yard. Terrible shame. All those walnut dashboards, chrome handles, and natty gear knobs – gone for ever."

He could go on; after all, he's always got a full tank of gas, and a satnav set to the only destination he knows – the past. But he gets a bit lost down the B-roads of the 1970s, and his audience is becoming concerned about that funny whining noise he's making. Time, perhaps, to pull over and park the prejudices.

But what's this? He's being overtaken! By some facts! And here, from a modestly made announcement last week, are a few timely statistics: far from being wrecked, our car industry produced 1,460,000 cars last year, a four-year high, and 9 per cent up on 2011. And there's more, much more. Exports – 80 per cent of cars made here are shipped overseas – are now at record levels, despite car sales in Europe hitting a 17-year low. And Jaguar Land Rover, which is about to create 800 new jobs in Solihull, has just seen a 70 per cent increase in sales in China.

They may not be Rileys, Talbots or Triumphs, but they are made in Britain. Contrary to widespread myth, we do have a thriving car industry.

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