What Became Of The British Car Industry?


The sale of Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata marks a watershed in British car manufacturing to many – the possible end of volume British-marque manufacturing in Britain; a sale of the remaining family silver out of the country.

With the inquiry into the sale of MG Rover to Chinese companies SAIC and NAC ongoing, and the re-commencement of production at Longbridge looking ever distant, JLR is the only British car company producing cars in the UK on a volume scale, employing over 15,000 people. While some fear that Tata will asset-strip the UK plants at Solihull, Liverpool and Castle Bromwich, Ford and relevant unions have given the deal their blessing on the understanding that Tata will pledge its future – at least in the short-term – to remaining in the UK.

Nevertheless, the issues has thrown a spotlight onto the British car industry, and the picture is a complicated one of foreign ownership, British-built ‘foreign’ cars and niche sports car manufacturers. At a time when so many classic British marques are in the hands of overseas manufacturers – and Honda, Toyota, Nissan, General Motors and Ford employ thousands and build over a million cars a year in the UK – what exactly do we mean by British car industry?

These are the remaining ‘British’ manufacturers still making cars in the UK, in addition to the classic names from the past.


Status: Active

Owned by: Tata Motors

Based: Coventry and Halewood, England

Employees: 16,000 (w Land Rover)

Current models: X-Type, XF, XJ, XK

Famous for: Being a by-word for quality, style and performance

History: Formed in 1945, Jaguar has been losing money ever since. At least that’s how it seems. The classic British marque is renowned for its quality, although that reputation has been somewhat sullied by the recent X-Type saloon and – horror upon horror – estate models.

Jag found itself part of the nationalised British Leyland throughout the 70s, stagnated during the 80s, resolutely failed to buck up its act under Ford in the 90s and has now passed into the ownership of India’s Tata Motors.

Future: Tata has promised to inject serious amounts of money to develop Jag’s product and the new XF and all-new aluminium XJ will lead the Big Cat’s revival over the next few years.

There are also rumours of a return of the E-Type and more focus on performance models, while the X-Type may not even reach roll-out and is unlikely to be replaced.

Sourcing parts for Jaguar and Land Rover may see new owner Tata forging alliances with Fiat, while using Ford’s engines.

CO2 emissions targets for cars built within the EU due to come into play in 2012 may also force Tata to introduce more low-emissions variants using diesel or hybrid technology.

Land Rover

Status: Active

Owned by: Tata

Base: Coventry, Solihull, Castle Bromwich and Halewood, England

Current models: Freelander, Discovery, Range Rover, Defender

Employees: 16,000 (w Jaguar)

Famous for: Iconic 60-year-old Defender 4×4

History: Formed 60 years ago as part of the Rover group, Land Rover originally referred to the iconic Defender model that survives today. Land Rover’s 4×4 models were ideal for use in the country and were used around the world by the British military.

Land Rover survived the collapse of British Leyland in the 70s and former parent company Rover in 2005 and passed through the hands of a number of owners – including British Aerospace and BMW before being sold to Tata Motors by Ford in 2008.

Future: Tata has promised to invest large amounts of cash in developing Land Rover’s models, and significant money will have to be spent on making the 4x4s less CO2-heavy in light of US and EU emissions limits.

The LRX hybrid concept may be fast-tracked to reduce the company’s range-wide emissions and make headway into the ever more popular crossover SUV segment.

Finally the Range Rover is due to be updated by 2012, something that should secure a future for Land Rover in the UK.


Status: Active

Owned by: BMW

Based: Swindon and Cowley, England

Current models: One, Cooper, Clubman

Famous for: Being driven through Turin in The Italian Job

History: Designed by Alec Issigonis in response to demand for cheap family cars and shortage of fuel due to the Suez Crisis, the Mini became an icon of British ingenuity and swinging 60s style, due to its striking design and numerous media appearances, not least in The Italian Job.

The Mini continued to be popular throughout the 70s, when the nationalised British Leyland found itself increasingly embattled, and was eventually BMW as part of Rover in the 90s, being eventually phased out in 2000.

Future: MINI models, now produced by BMW, are a stylistic update of the classic design and are a strong seller for the German manufacturer. Equipped with BMW’s EfficientDynamics, some MINIs are among the greenest cars on the road.

The Mark II MINI, now in production, has cabriolet, Clubman estate and performance Cooper S variants. An SUV variant known as the Crossman is currently in development.


Status: Active

Owned by: Volkswagen

Based: Crewe, England

Current models: Flying Spur, Arnage, Brooklands Coupe, Continental GT

Famous for: Numerous name-checks in hip-hop and R’n’B,

History: Founded by a group of Edwardian dandies, secretly bought by Rolls-Royce and famously driven by John Steed in The Avengers, Bentleys represent a luxury on a par with Rolls-Royce, though its currently line-up flickers between resolutely old-fashioned and rather vulgar.

Future: Bentley will spend the next decade refreshing its model range and increasing production. Soft hybrid models using technology from across VW are likely to be introduced.


Status: Active

Owned by: BMW

Based: Goodwood, England

Current models: Phantom, Phantom Coupe, Phantom Drophead Coupe

Famous for: Widely known as the most luxurious cars in the world

History: Originally a car and engine-maker, Rolls began making upscale cars in 1906 until the early 70s, when a financial crisis led to its nationalisation and separation of car and engine-building arms.

Subsequently privatised it passed through the hands of several owners and resulting in a complicated splitting of rights to build cars and certain trademarks between Volkswagen and BMW, due to the intertwining of the Rolls and Bentley companies. BMW now owns all rights to produce Rolls-Royce models.

Future: Rolls is planning at least one new model – a four-door based on the BMW 7-Series platform – due towards the end of the decade. It recently sold out of its newest model – the Phantom Coupe – and has announced plans to increase production.


Status: Active

Owned by: Proton

Based: Hethel, England

Current models: Exige, Elise, Europa, Esprit

Famous for: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge and subsequent driving games

History: Established nearly 60 years ago, Lotus was formed by Colin Chapman and has passed through the hands of companies such as Bugatti and General Motors. Alongside developing sports cars for the road, Lotus is renowned for its handling know-how and acts as consultants to a variety of manufacturers, as well as having a number of Formula One titles in its cabinet.

Future: Troubled Proton may sell off Lotus unless the parent company can sell more cars, but Lotus’ worldwide reputation as tuners and manufacturers should see the Hethel-based company’s future assured.

Lotus’ involvement in the building of the Tesla electric performance roadster is testament to the company’s renown and a new Elise is due next year.

Aston Martin

Status: Active

Owned by: Consortium headed by David Richards

Based: Gaydon, England

Current models: DB9, DBS, Vantage

Famous for: Being James Bond’s car of choice

History: Founded in the early part of the twentieth century as a sports car manufacturer, Aston has passed through the hands of a number of entrepreneurs and consortiums – surviving by the skin of its teeth and wheeling and dealing of successive owners.

Ford invested significant amounts of money in Aston, which flourished and made a return to competitive racing in 2003. Ford sold Aston to a consortium of Kuwaiti investors led by Prodrive’s David Richards in 2007.

Future: Backed by private equity, one of the most valuable advertising spots in the world in Bond films, clued-up owners and an impressive model range. The future looks bright for Aston.

Low-volume and inactive British marques


Status: Suspended

Owned by: Nikolai Smolensky

Based: Blackpool, England

Current models: Tuscan, Tuscan S Convertible, Sagaris

Famous for: Being brought to its knees by part-time owner Nikolai Smolensky

History: Owned by a succession of private owners and renowned for its bonkers cars powered by in-house engines, TVR was bought by the son of a Russian oligarch in 2004. SInce that time TVR’s current status has been a source of constant speculation.

Future: TVR has recently indicated that it intends to start building for cars during 2008, following two years of uncertainty, but its ownership and liquidity issues do not appear any simpler.


Status: Active

Owned by: NAC

Based: Longbridge, England

Current models: TF

Famous for: Being the last bastion of home-grown volume car production in Britain as MG Rover until 2005.

History: Another classic British sports-car manufacturer that survived private ownership and subsequent nationalisation. MG went out of production in 1980 but was revived in 1995 by MG Rover with the introduced of the MG F – an affordable sports car that sold strongly.

MG Rover collapsed in 2005 with equipment and intellectual rights divided between Chinese manufacturers (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation) SAIC and Nanjing Automobile Group (NAC). MG is currently owned by NAC.

Future: MG is slated to be relaunched as a brand in the shape of the MG TF sports car, under the ownership of NAC and with the blessing of enthusiasts.

A number of delays and lack information on the relaunch have raised the suspicion that things may not be going as smoothly as planned, and pessimists suggest that NAC has simply asset-stripped MG Rover and does not intent to restart production at Longbridge.


Status: Inactive

Owned by: Tata. And SAIC (?)

Current models: Roewe 750

Famous for: Interior wood trim

History: Founded privately in the earl 20th Century and seen as an upmarket volume manufacturer and experimental engine-maker, Rover launched Land Rover and subsequently converged with just about every other brand in the UK car industry in the 70s under British Leyland.

The Austin Rover group was formed from the remnants of the nationalised BL, which was sold to British Aerospace and subsequently sold onto BMW, with Land Rover hived off. Failing to make a profit, BMW then sold Rover to the Phoenix Consortium, retaining Mini as part of the deal.

Rover was the final volume car manufacturer in the UK until 2005 when, as MG Rover, it finally collapsed amid a number of complicated alliances and potential buy outs. A public inquiry by the UK government is still ongoing.

Future: SAIC looks set to continue branding Rover-based models as Roewe, though whether any make their way to the UK looks debatable.

Ford bought the Rover name from BMW when the German company divested itself of the marque, so the name rights have passed to new owner Tata. A low-emissions brand from Tata may be on the cards due to EU CO2 targets and the name has valuable recognition mileage, so Rover may yet re-emerge.


Status: Inactive

Owned by: NAC

Famous for: Famous duffers such as the Princess, Allegro and Maestro

History: Conceived in the early C20th, made famous by the Austin Seven and pretty much destroyed by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and British Leyland experience, exemplified by the the Allegro. Paired with Rover in the 80s and retired as a brand in the late 80s.

Future: NAC has indicated that it may revive one of the classic British marques that it owns, with a return as a volume manufacturer in the Far East looking likely.


Status: Inactive

Owned by: NAC

Famous for: The Morris Minor

History: Morris began as a bicycle manufacturer and hit the big time with the Issigonis-designed Morris Minor – a car that’s still occasionally spotted on UK roads today. Absorbed into BMC along with Austin, MG, Riley and Wolseley in the 1950s, Morris was subsequently absorbed into BL and faded out as a marque in the 80s.

Future: NAC now owns the rights to the Morris name, and although NAC has indicated that it may revive one of the classic British marques that it owns, any return in the near future looks unlikely.


Status: Inactive

Owned by: BMW

Famous for: Triumph TR2 and TR3 – manufactured in the 50s with many models still on the roads.

History: A similar story of glorious early days, subsequent consolidation and neglect. Triumph was marketed towards sportier and luxury markets, but the brand faltered under British Leyland.

The rights to the Triumph name were the source of a bidding war between several manufacturers in the late 90s and are now the property of BMW.

Future: BMW has recently suggested that it will launch a fourth brand, based on green hybrid models. A revival of Triumph under the circumstances seems possible, but it’s more likely that BMW will simply choose a different name altogether.


Status: Inactive

Owned by: NAC

Famous for: Wolseley Hornet – a high-end Mini with a larger boot.

History: A history intertwined with other British car manufacturers such as Austin, Riley and Morris – Wolseley shared the fate of many other classic British brands, passing through the hands of BMC and BL before passing into obscurity in the 70s.

Future: NAC has indicated that it may revive one of the classic British marques that it owns, but any return in the near future looks unlikely.


Status: Inactive

Owned by: BMW

Famous for: Racing success in the 30s

History: Started life as a racing car company and battling with Jaguar for supremacy in the high-end performance stakes. The Riley brand lost focus under BMC among other similar competing marques and was retired in the 60s.

Future: BMW has suggested that it may revive one of the classic marques it holds as its likely future ‘green’ brand, but a revival of Riley seems unlikely.


Status: Active

Owned by: Tata Motors

Based: England

Current models: Daimler Super Eight

Famous for: Confusion with Daimler-Benz, and latterly Daimler AG – owners of Mercedes

History: Changed hands several times in the early part of the twentieth century, all the time producing luxury cars for the British well-to-do. Merged with Jaguar in 1960 and subsequently turned up on Big Cat’s flagship models.

Future: Occasionally popping up on Jaguar XJ models in high-level specifications.


Status: Inactive

Owned by: British Motor Heritage Limited

Famous for: Top Gear race in which Clarkson, May and Hammond try to build a Caterham kit car and complete a circuit in the time it takes for The Stig to travel from Surrey to Knockhill.

History: A familiar story of declining profits and market share leading to mergers and buyouts. Standard didn’t even make it to the British Leyland years. Various BL models were branded as Standards for overseas sales until the 80s, whereupon the name fell out of use. MG Rover tried to revive the name in the early 2000s for a budget brand based on models from Tata. The models eventually became the reviled CityRover.

Future: Likely as not, none at all.


Status: Inactive

Owned by: Peugeot

Famous for: The Imp – a micro saloon that looked ridiculous but was way ahead of its time.

History: A successful car manufacturer before and after WWII, the cost of developing the rear-wheel drive, rear-engined Imp practically bankrupted owner Rootes. An unsuccessful buyout by Chrysler followed, as did a buyout by Peugeot for a nominal sum. Hillman didn’t survive the 70s, but Peugeot continued to use the Ryton plant until 2006, when it finally closed the factory.

Future: Peugeot retain the name, but it seems unlikely that it will be revived, especially as Peugeot has abandoned the historic Ryton site where Hillmans were manufactured.


Status: Active

Owned by: Private

Based: Bristol

Current models: Fighter, Blenheim 3, Blenheim 3S, Blenheim 3G, Blenheim Speedster

Famous for: Claim to the only remaining British luxury car-maker.

History: Bristol models use a number of donor cars and engines, most notable from Chrysler and BMW to produce cars that aren’t so much retro as simply old-looking. Bristol owners are strongly loyal to the brand.

Future:Likely to continue making its luxury cars while there’s a customer base, however small. New models are few and far between, but the knowledge that its there produces a warm and fuzzy feeling.


Status: Inactive

Owned by: NAC

Famous for: Confusion over name with the rugby union player Austin Healey.

History: Never a manufacturer in its own right, Austin-Healey models were sports cars produced between Austin and engineer Donald Healey. Austin-Healey was another victim of BMC and BL mergers, and the brand was retired when an agreement between Healey and Austin expired.

Future:Mooted relaunch of Healey or Austin-Healey brands by Nanjing have been suggested. A new company owns the Healey name, Nanjing owns the Austin name. A revival seems possible, but you wouldn’t bet your house on it.


Status: Inactive as car manufacturer

Owned by: Unclear

Famous for:Reliant Robin – silliest car of all time, though much-loved

History:Reliant specialised in three-wheel trucks and cars, but also produced the Reliant Scimitar – a much-admired sports saloon that went through several launches into the 80s and 90s. Although escaping the clutches of British Leyland, Reliant went through a number of receivership issues throughout the 90s, before ceasing car production and moving into importing.

Future:Barely a year passes without another company claiming to bring back the Reliant Robin – though it’s unclear exactly who is hankering for its return.


Status: Active

Owned by: Private

Based: Dartford

Current models: Caterham Seven

Famous for: Top Gear race in which Clarkson, May and Hammond try to build a Caterham kit car and complete a circuit in the time it takes for The Stig to travel from Surrey to Knockhill.

History: Still going strong after just over 50 years, the Caterham is well respected as a racing car and style icon. With suspension by Lotus, a chassis weighing around the same weight as three pillows and tuned-up engines, Caterhams are notoriously fast. Most Caterhams are typically assembled from kits.

Future: More chassis variants of the Seven, including the Superlight R500 – an even faster Seven than usual.


Status: Active

Owned by: Private

Based: Somerset

Current models: Atom

Famous for: The exoskeletal Ariel Atom racing car with a huge power-to-weight ratio and screaming acceleration.

History: Founded two centuries back, Ariel has been a low-volume manufacturer of sports car ever since, and is still going strong.

Future: A performance RS version of the Atom is on the way, and the Atom is built under licence abroad. There are a miniscule number of Atoms sold every year, but the future looks as bright as can be expected for any micro car manufacturer.


Status: Active

Owned by: Private

Based: Malvern

Current models: Aero 8, AeroMax, Plus 4, V6 Roadster

Famous for: Being made of wood. Kind of.

History: Run by the founder and his son for almost a century between them, Morgan spent 50 years building three-wheelers before moving onto more conventional models. Morgan mixes large-displacement engines with a lightweight build to provide powerful performance from its retro-styled cars.

Future: A fuel-cell sports car is on the cards in the shape of the Morgan LIFEcar.


Status: Active

Owned by: Private

Based: Leicestershire

Current models: M15, M400

Famous for: Being a promised British supercar manufacturer that has actually delivered a supercar.

History: New privately-owned supercar manufacturer.

Future: Sales under licence around the world based on the M400. A new Noble is imminent but still undergoing testing.


Status: Active

Owned by: Private

Based: Basingstoke

Current models: T1

Famous for: Bursting into flames while driven by Jason Plato for Fifth Gear

History: Recently established by two ex-F1 engineers, the sole product T1 is a carbon-fibre street-legal race car that looks like a mini F1 car.

Future: Selling more than the current 20-odd T1s. Building body frames for the Tata Nano. More sensible cars based on the T1 are in the pipeline.


Status: Active

Owned by: Private

Based: Banbury

Famous for: Lunatic Ascari A10 model, which currently holds the Top gear Power Lap time.

History: Founded a little over ten years and produces seriously fast racing cars for the road and track. Private test track and resort bears testament to exclusivity of brand.

Future:Ascari models are hand-built, so simply producing more models will be the order of the day.


Status: Active

Owned by: Potenza Sport Cars

Based: Black Country

Current models: Megabusa, Sport 2000S, various kit cars

Famous for: Scrapping with Caterham over the rights to build Seven-esque vehicles on the Lotus chassis.

History: Fairly recently formed, Westfield builds factory cars and donor-car kits for private assembly using a number of different donor cars.

Future: Westfield is currently seeking a design for an all-electric race car.


Status: Active

Owned by: Anthony Keating

Based: Southport

Current models: SKR, TKR

Famous for: Claims to have a Veyron-beating supercar in development.

History: Keating launched its SKR grand tourer and TKR race cars in early 2008, though no cars have been sold as yet. Owner Anthony Keating designed the cars himself.

Future: Keating will either carve out a niche in British supercars or struggle amidst established opposition. It’s a tough task, but you wouldn’t bet against them.

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