What happened to the British car industry?

The UK Automotive Industry has a long tradition and is very much alive. There is a lot of technological knowledge in the UK. English brands have a unique position in the high-end market of today.

Jaguar E-Type

An industry with independent British carmakers, making cars from design to delivery however exists no more. Most brands are owned by foreign companies. What happened to the British car industry?

The Chinese

Lotus cars have had many owners, including the Japanese (Toyota) and the Americans (General Motors), before it became in Chinese hands in 2017. In this year, Geely took a 51% controlling stake in Lotus.

Another British car company under Chinese control is MG Rover. The MG Rover Group was the last domestically owned mass-production car manufacturer in the British motor industry (though it was already owned by BMW then).

In 2005 the Nanjing Automobile Group restarted MG sports car and also purchased technology relating to the Rover 75 and Rover 25. Two years later Nanjing merged with SAIC which is the current owner.

Interestingly, SAIC failed to acquire the Rover brand name. This name was first acquired by Ford and now owned by Tata Motors. The cars are therefore named Roewe in China and mostly branded as MG outside the country.

The Indians

Tata Motors owns the Rover brand. It owns however a much bigger part of the British car industry. This was done by acquiring Jaguar Land Rover in 2008 from Ford (who bought it in 2000).

Tata Motors invested and expanded those brands a lot, but failed returns on their invest. In 2019 Tata Motors wrote down its investment in Jaguar Land Rover by $3.9 billion. Much of the financial problems was due to a 50% drop of sales in China.

The Arabs

Semi-independent is still McClaren. It makes sport cars (like the 720s and the P1), it has a Formula One team and an engineering department for other brands. The main owner is Mumtalakat Holding Company which is the investment fund of the Kingdom of Bahrain. They hold 56.4% of all shares.

The Germans

The worst thing that can happen to a British carmaker, of course, is being owned by a German company! This happened to the crown jewels of the British Motor industry, Rolls-Royce and Bentley.

Once both companies were closely related, they are now split over Germany. The Rolls-Royce brand name and logo was licensed in 1998 by BMW. Since 2003 BMW produced cars under the Rolls-Royce brand. VW bought however other parts of the Rolls-Royce company that included the Bentley name and logos.

BMW not only owns Rolls-Royce, but also another British car brand: Mini. And though German ownership was wished for at first, all those brands have become very successful since then. Mini sold 292,394 cars last year.

That British carmakers not only sell sport and luxury cars proved Vauxhall. This sister-company of Opel still manufacturers in the UK and sells the brand exclusively in Great Britain.

For a long time Opel/Vauxhall was owned by General Motors, but was sold to PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) in 2017. This makes Vauxhall a German owned company with a French touch. Touché.

But Wait

Is there then no independent British carmaker anymore? Yes, there is: Aston Martin.

Again, a comment should be made here. First, Aston Martin wasn’t always independent. Its previous owner was Ford. And since 2013 it has a partnership with Mercedes who owns 20% of its shares. Still, British Billionaire Lawrence Stroll has the major stake in Aston Martin. The current CEO is Tobias Moers of Mercedes-AMG though.

Final note

When you listen to English politicians, you sometimes still have the feeling that the United Kingdom is still as powerful as during the British Empire. In practice, Great Britain isn’t as ‘Great’ anymore in the world. The British car industry is a perfect example of that. The brands are now mostly owned and controlled from abroad. Nevertheless, they still make great cars.

Check here for part 1:

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