PH Footnote: The new British car industry


If, for just a moment, you can shift your gaze from the assumed negativities of stuff like electrification, connectivity, autonomy, the spread of congestion zones and, of course, Brexit - which aren't all negative, by the way - there's a collection of fantastic automotive prospects looming on the British motoring horizon over the next few years. They deserve much, much more of our attention than the perceived bad stuff.

Let's take four prospects that have arrived in as many months. First is an amazing all-Brit partnership revealed without warning at September's LCV Show: the 1,216hp, all-electric four-wheel drive Hipercar project, led by Ariel's Simon Saunders (already distinguished in the high performance patch). Next was Jim Ratcliffe, the oil and gas billionaire, determined to recreate the traditional Land Rover Defender - or something very much like it - he announced concrete plans to pull it off in the shape of Projekt Grenadier.


Two more deserve the same close attention: the vacuum cleaner knight, Sir James Dyson, has dreamed for 20 years of producing a "radically different" electric car, and is on course to spend a cool £2.5 billion making it happen by 2020. No final design yet, he says. The emphasis is on choosing and proving the core (read battery) technology. Finally, in the past few days that proven automotive genius, Gordon Murray of F1 and supercar fame, announced a decision (at the age of 71) to start building his own cars, very efficiently but in low volume. The first, probably, is a baby supercar built on McLaren F1 principles and replicating the small size and space efficiency of the Smart Roadster Murray has driven to work almost every day for 14 years.

Beyond the fact that they'll all have four wheels and be called cars, you could hardly list four more diverse projects: an all-electric hypercar, a traditional Landie, a "different" electric car and a latter-day Spridget.


Yet they're united by what this writer-immigrant sees as arch-British qualities (and here's where you're supposed to start feeling good about yourself) such as certainty, enthusiasm-with-pragmatism and a calculated willingness to risk both money and reputation. And of course, the big one: leadership. These are the qualities that have always made small groups of UK engineers so consistently good at F1 and other forms of top-level racing. To the hell with the fact that we couldn't make the Austin Metro profitably in the gargantuan factories that continue to be meat and drink to Germans, Koreans Japanese and more.

Leadership is one of those words seriously undervalued because it's sheer numptiness. Yet it moves mountains. I'm put in mind of a childish but remarkably relevant rhyme about leadership I read in a book by David Ogilvy, the late advertising guru: "Look throughout our towns and cities; you'll see no statues of committees..."

Inspiration, followed closely by the ability to inspire others, is what unites the four men I've cited. With their help (and the help of more like them) we are moving, miraculously, into an era where gifted teams headed by influential leaders will change the world more rapidly than ever.

Steve Cropley

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (20) Join the discussion on the forum

  • big_rob_sydney 25 Oct 2017

    Leadership? What, like Trump?

    Please. Lets be serious for a moment. Any endeavor like this is incredibly complex, and will need delegation to many levels.

    As for the British factories bit, I admit to being somewhat underwhelmed. What major car manufacturer is actually in the hands of British "leadership" at present? Because all I see really are a bunch of manufacturers domestically situated, but owned by foreign interests. Hardly British at all. Even that paragon of British-ness, JLR, are now Indian.

    No. When these companies actually offer something to the public that can be bought in commercial quantities, that's when I'll believe it.

  • SydneyBridge 25 Oct 2017

    Dyson builds his products overseas to compete, but has thousands of creative/designer staff in the UK.

    his 'car' may not be built in the UK, but does that matter.

    I don't think it matters where the money comes from (where would RR/JLR etc be without foreign investment/ownership)

    anyone remember the Top Gear episode where they gathered all the machinery (anything from huge diggers to ice cream vans, hearses and lawn mowers) that were built in the UK - amazing amount of stuff in the Mall

  • geeks 25 Oct 2017

    Enjoyed reading that, I genuinely hope these projects all get off the ground!

  • lotus116tornado 25 Oct 2017

    SydneyBridge said:
    Dyson builds his products overseas to compete, but has thousands of creative/designer staff in the UK.

    his 'car' may not be built in the UK, but does that matter.

    I don't think it matters where the money comes from (where would RR/JLR etc be without foreign investment/ownership)

    anyone remember the Top Gear episode where they gathered all the machinery (anything from huge diggers to ice cream vans, hearses and lawn mowers) that were built in the UK - amazing amount of stuff in the Mall
    We were very lucky to be part of that episode with our Jaguar hearse, our competitors who build Mercs in the UK did not get any screen time. We managed about 2 glorious seconds.

    We had a lot of phone calls in the following week from customers, competitors and friends who had seen the vehicle.

    Its truly amazing what was on show in The Mall that day. Hats off to British industry.

  • Tuna 25 Oct 2017

    big_rob_sydney said:
    Leadership? What, like Trump?

    Please. Lets be serious for a moment. Any endeavor like this is incredibly complex, and will need delegation to many levels.

    As for the British factories bit, I admit to being somewhat underwhelmed. What major car manufacturer is actually in the hands of British "leadership" at present? Because all I see really are a bunch of manufacturers domestically situated, but owned by foreign interests. Hardly British at all. Even that paragon of British-ness, JLR, are now Indian.

    No. When these companies actually offer something to the public that can be bought in commercial quantities, that's when I'll believe it.
    ...and this, children, is why we can't have nice things.

    Being serious for a moment, as per request - bks. The article is pointing out - quite rightly - that right now is a good time in the automotive industry, with interesting projects being led by home-grown talent. That's worth celebrating. And encouraging.

    It is of course disappointing that we don't have a British 'Ford' or 'Toyota', but without people starting projects, such companies would never grow into existence here or anywhere else. It's unfortunate that the British attitude starts first with all the reasons why we should just give in right now.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment