The Rise, Fall, and Salvation of the British Auto Industry

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Great Britain lies on the precipice of Brexit. As ministers in Whitehall scramble together a plan of action, industrial concerns loom. Will Britain leave the single market? Will it reject free movement of EU labour? Will tariffs be imposed on both sides of the English Channel? What will happen to the British Auto Industry?

We simply don’t have the answers right now.

One British sector which is particularly intertwined with the European economy is the car industry. Britain is a major player when it comes to global car production, and thousands of jobs are at risk, should the international conglomerates move their production to the continent.

Part of Britain’s problem is that ownership of the country’s major car brands has almost entirely moved to foreign corporations, especially German, Japanese, and American interests.

However, this wasn’t always the case. Up until the 1980’s, British brands dominated the roads from St Ives to Inverness. In 1979 a new Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher did away with previous attempts at salvaging bruised industrial relations with striking car workers, and many British car brands collapsed as a result. The subsequent decades saw a flurry of investment from international companies, keen to capitalise on the vacuum created.

UK number plate dealer Regtransfers has visualised this shift towards international brands on their blog. Using data from the Department of Transport they have colour coded the proportion of new cars registered from 1900-2015, with each colour denoting a different country of origin for the car brands in question.

The chart provides some fascinating insight into the development of Britain’s car sector, from the early dominance of Austin, to Ford’s increasing market share. Notably, it suggests that Britain’s driving choices are even more diverse now than they ever have been previously.

It remains to be seen if Brexit will impact the future of Britain’s car industry, but regardless, interesting developments lie on the horizon. 

British Auto Industry

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