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Topic Title: What actually killed the British car industry
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Created On: 28 October 2009 11:18 AM
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 28 October 2009 11:18 AM
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jencam

Posts: 608
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Does the IET have the answer to the question of what was the real cause for the almost complete demise of the British car industry? Hundreds of speculated theories exist outside of the IET ranging from trade union militancy or the entire British car industry was too small in the 1950s to ensure long term survival, to failing to offer stereos as standard fitment in the 1970s or properly rustproof the Montego in the 1980s.

Was the British electronics industry a contributor to the demise of the British car industry by failing to offer high quality advanced electronic parts during the 1980s and 90s? I believe that the Rover 800 used a lot of foreign electronic parts because no UK manufacturers existed or their products were not sufficiently reliable.

My own personal view is that if Rover had stayed independent rather than incorporated into BL then it would have survived to this day as a high end manufacturer - possibly competing with Mercedes - and BMC would have gone bust in the early 1980s. The infamous BL rotters of the 1970s were Austin and Morris, not Rover. The strongest opponents of this viewpoint convey that Rover would have lacked the economy of scale to have been able to develop sufficiently advanced technology after 1990 to ensure its survival.
 29 October 2009 09:16 AM
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westonpa

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Ultimately it was bad British Management and much better foreign management. There were all manner of things than happened and we could say it was 'death by a thousand cuts' but much of the British management in those times was quite simply 'management' in name only.

Regards.
 31 October 2009 12:53 PM
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jencam

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Are you basically trying to imply that British automotive engineers were as good as those from any other country but the management was at fault?

I'm sure the demise of Rootes was a result of a lack of investment into developing new technology and manufacturing methods. I read somewhere that Fiat planned on buying Rootes in the 1960s so sent out undercover detectives to investigate whether it was worth buying. They concluded it was a medieval blacksmith's workshop.
 31 October 2009 07:31 PM
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westonpa

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For the most part engineers need to be well managed.

Management was at fault as it has been for the credit crisis.......however do appreciate that 'management' of the UK also played its part. US, Japan, China, UK, etc., all humans and all as good as each other with the right tools, motivation and management.

Regards.
 02 November 2009 09:09 AM
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tickner

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Is the UK car industry really almost dead? is it pining for the fjords? We still do produce a few cars in this country, admittedly mostly for non-UK car manufacturers, but that is still British labour.

If the industry is almost dead, would it be correct to assume that the English premier league is also almost dead as many of the teams are owned by non-British financiers (let alone the players and management)?

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Mark Tickner CEng MIET
 02 November 2009 09:18 AM
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tomhlaing

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Mark - you raise a very good comparison!
What exactly do we mean by "British" when we talk about manufacturing?

If it means ownership by people originally from the UK, then yes we have no automotive, rail FMCG, football, media etc.
Is it where the bits are made? People would say dyson is a british brand, but the things are made on the other side of the world. Most parts in a Rolls-Ryce jet engine are sourced from around the world.
Or do we mean where the company does most of its business - BAE are American!


As a manufacturing engineer who works for a large blue chip- i've no idea who actually owns most of the shares, but would always say i work in the british aerospace industry!

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Tom Hlaing MEng CEng MIET
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 02 November 2009 09:50 AM
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westonpa

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Even when you say "BAE are American" a very very large part of USA industry is owned by non Americans and for the most part they are currently being bankrolled by China. Added to this most companies are owned by shareholders who are pension and insurance funds which are owned by us..........so who really knows who owns what anymore.

Anyway I think it is clear that jencam is referring to the British Car industry as it was in the 50's, 60's, 70's, etc., i.e., owned, staffed and managed by British people......however these days there are many debates about who is really British.....LOL.

Regards.
 05 November 2009 07:28 PM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: westonpa
Anyway I think it is clear that jencam is referring to the British Car industry as it was in the 50's, 60's, 70's, etc., i.e., owned, staffed and managed by British people.


Everything from the 1950s up to the collapse of MG Rover in 2005.

Last summer my son was helping to restore two 1970s classic cars. The first was a Toyota Corona and the second was a Triumph Dolomite. His findings were that the Toyota was of a design that facilitated assembly with minimal effort, whereas assembling the Triumph was more laborious and time consuming. He has wondered whether the Toyota was deliberately designed for fast and effortless assembly to enable a production advantage. Were British cars such as the Michelotti styled Triumph designed with little consideration for ease of production, thereby making production more tedious and laborious than cars from some foreign manufacturers?
 05 November 2009 09:59 PM
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westonpa

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Originally posted by: jencam

Originally posted by: westonpa

Anyway I think it is clear that jencam is referring to the British Car industry as it was in the 50's, 60's, 70's, etc., i.e., owned, staffed and managed by British people.


Everything from the 1950s up to the collapse of MG Rover in 2005.

Last summer my son was helping to restore two 1970s classic cars. The first was a Toyota Corona and the second was a Triumph Dolomite. His findings were that the Toyota was of a design that facilitated assembly with minimal effort, whereas assembling the Triumph was more laborious and time consuming. He has wondered whether the Toyota was deliberately designed for fast and effortless assembly to enable a production advantage. Were British cars such as the Michelotti styled Triumph designed with little consideration for ease of production, thereby making production more tedious and laborious than cars from some foreign manufacturers?


The Japanese management brought into quality and all that eminated from it from the time Deming went there after the second world war......albeit as we remember their early cars were rust buckets but not any more. UK management for the most part paid lip service to quality until it was too late. I think the other thing was that in Japan they invested for the long term whereas we invested for the short term. For the most part it all comes back to those in charge......management.

Regards.
 05 November 2009 11:32 PM
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leewood

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As an Engineer who spent many years working for "management" before becoming one of them I am not sure they are solely to blame for the demise of the British car industry or for that matter any industry.

Even today in 2009 I still know of companies who haven't moved on and still want to talk about "us and them" between workforce and management. All I know in my experience is that whilst the UK continues to have infighting the only ones that win are the cheaper regions of Europe such as Poland / Bulgaria etc. I have a first-hand understanding of how good they can be be at just about anything you throw at them.

We all have to learn an important lesson; faster, quicker, cheaper is the way. That's all the buyer wants and is interested in, where it's made is of little consequence to almost all.

Rgds
 06 November 2009 02:56 PM
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westonpa

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Originally posted by: enersys



As an Engineer who spent many years working for "management" before becoming one of them I am not sure they are solely to blame for the demise of the British car industry or for that matter any industry.

Even today in 2009 I still know of companies who haven't moved on and still want to talk about "us and them" between workforce and management. All I know in my experience is that whilst the UK continues to have infighting the only ones that win are the cheaper regions of Europe such as Poland / Bulgaria etc. I have a first-hand understanding of how good they can be be at just about anything you throw at them.

We all have to learn an important lesson; faster, quicker, cheaper is the way. That's all the buyer wants and is interested in, where it's made is of little consequence to almost all.

Rgds


Agreed management were not completely to blame but they were at least 90% responsible. This is not to say that there were not some good managers in those companies though. Rather like the banks, some managers were/are really good.

Regards.
 07 November 2009 09:25 AM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: westonpa
The Japanese management brought into quality and all that eminated from it from the time Deming went there after the second world war......albeit as we remember their early cars were rust buckets but not any more. UK management for the most part paid lip service to quality until it was too late.


Designing good quality products and quality assurance in manufacturing are two completely different things. I suspect that the first influences the second, although even products of the highest quality design will come out shoddily built if insufficient attention is paid to quality assurance at the manufacturing stage.

I think the other thing was that in Japan they invested for the long term whereas we invested for the short term. For the most part it all comes back to those in charge......management.


I disagree with this. The banks and financial institutions were unhelpful and unsupportive for businesses that needed to invest in the longer term - and still are today. Governments were equally to blame for volatility of taxes, interest rates, lack of strategies, shallow populism rather than long term vision, etc.
 07 November 2009 04:26 PM
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westonpa

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Originally posted by: jencam

Designing good quality products and quality assurance in manufacturing are two completely different things.


That was what the British management thought. Deming went to Japan and introduced the new quality thinking, and principles, to them and they took it on board and improved upon it and exported it back to the West. Current teaching is quite the opposite of what you suggest.

The banks and financial institutions were unhelpful and unsupportive for businesses that needed to invest in the longer term - and still are today. Governments were equally to blame for volatility of taxes, interest rates, lack of strategies, shallow populism rather than long term vision, etc.


So it was the 'management' of the banks and the 'management' of the car companies and the 'management' of the country. Note that I originally said 'British Management'.

Regards.

Edited: 07 November 2009 at 10:25 PM by westonpa
 08 November 2009 08:25 PM
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Angram

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Turn the question inside out.

What put the others ahead?

The others: Wanted to eat.
We: Wanted foreign holidays.

The others: Had to compete.
We: Thought we still had captive markets.

The others: Had empty order books.(1945)
We: Had full order books.

The others: Could start from scratch
We: Had a legacy to deal with.

The others: Started by choosing a selling price.
We: Started by manufacturing.

The others: Sold few models first in large volume.
We: sold dozens of models in low volume.

The others: Had workers who could read company accounts
We: Had workers who refused to believe company accounts.

The others: Had politicians with strategies
We: Had politicians who responded to events.

The others: Had a gale of creative destruction(1939-45)
We: Gales of self satisfaction.

The others: Emphasised performance
We; Emphasised appearance.

The others: Served their customers
We: Served employees. (Man& Lab)

The others: Responded to design faults.
We: Kept faults secret even when cars turned over on M1.

The others: Made cars rustproof for UK market.
We: Told customers to rust and like it.

I did consultancy for a UK car plant in the early 80s (before Thatcher)
On the first rung of management, one of the foremen, when asked which
car he drove. "Was it one of ours?" " Not b...dy likely. I have seen how we make them.
I am not putting my family in one of those."

We tried explaining profit and loss. We asked what the profit on £100 of sales
was at the factory gate. They all said £30. We asked if that was before or after tax:
They hadn't thought of that, but settled for £30 after tax.
When we said it was actually £2.50pence there was absolute fury and they refused
to listen to anything we said after that, ever. We were seen as part of a management
plot to hold down wages. The wonderful irony was that we had a reformed "militant"
shop steward from another car plant on the team!

The unions believed they were there to defend every job that existed.
Investment meant people losing the job they had so that new jobs could be
created. New jobs were not created. Investment was not made.

There were genuinely people doing nothing on company payrolls and
expecting customers to cover the cost.
 10 November 2009 09:05 PM
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sbdesign

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Britain's scrappage scheme helped foreign carmakers?
http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8352034.stm
 11 November 2009 08:05 AM
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tickner

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More correctly, it helped foreign car assemblers.

What proportion of the content of those non-UK assembled vehicles is UK sourced? I don't know either, but I do know that it is not 0%

In the same way "Made in the UK" doesn't mean all the bits came from the UK, just the final processing and packaging is done in the UK. So how much of a UK manufactured car is actually UK?

(if no one has spotted, electronics is a bit of a global business these days )

The real question is, have any lessons been learned from the collapse of Rover? I believe that industry still takes a very short-sighted/short-term view. I suspect several of the issues identified by Angram are still true.

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Mark Tickner CEng MIET
 19 November 2009 07:53 PM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: tickner
The real question is, have any lessons been learned from the collapse of Rover?


I predicted that Rover would collapse before 2010. If I had to answer the question what was the killing blow to BL / Rover, it was when BMW took over the company in 1994. The re-emergence of an independent MG Rover in 2000 came as a surprise to many (outside the company at least), but by then, the company had been so badly asset stripped its long term survival was remote.

I don't think any lessons had been learned from the collapse of MG Rover.
 19 November 2009 09:40 PM
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westonpa

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Originally posted by: jencam

Originally posted by: tickner

The real question is, have any lessons been learned from the collapse of Rover?


I predicted that Rover would collapse before 2010. If I had to answer the question what was the killing blow to BL / Rover, it was when BMW took over the company in 1994. The re-emergence of an independent MG Rover in 2000 came as a surprise to many (outside the company at least), but by then, the company had been so badly asset stripped its long term survival was remote.

I don't think any lessons had been learned from the collapse of MG Rover.


Plenty was/is learned but no one really cares when it only effects the normal workers......the bosses were still legally able to line their own pockets. However that said I agree with the main points you are making.

Regards.
 19 November 2009 10:31 PM
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Angram

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I thought BMW had poured capital into Rover and launched a new model
that was not well reviewed and failed to sell.
I thought the BMW executive responsible had his career cut short and
BMW's investment was lost.

Post BMW the government wanted a stay of execution for political reasons,
just as they have since the 70s. The last UK management took a big cut
but they were employed as fall guys by the government anyway.

If no one cares to buy the cars; the game is up for everyone involved.
The last Rover I had was superb and it was a Honda.
 19 November 2009 10:43 PM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: Angram
I thought BMW had poured capital into Rover and launched a new model that was not well reviewed and failed to sell.


If you are referring to the Rover 75 then I have known an owner of the car who considered it to be a modern day Austin rather than a real Rover. The owner suspected that BMW did not want to create cars that competed with their own models but instead wanted a slice of merry old England similar to that which Austin targetted with its large saloons in the early 1960s.

The last Rover I had was superb and it was a Honda.


The Honda Rover partnership proved to be fruitful. In 1992 Rover manufactured a diverse range of cars in the 200 / 400 series that were commercially successful, and could only have been dreamed of back in 1980.
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