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Rolls Royce, Bentley or Mini?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Advanced Manufacturing, Export, Germany, Investing in the UK, Manufacturing

That was the choice I was left with when I decided to buy a new car linked to my job.

UKTI Germany exists to help British firms export and to encourage German firms to invest in the UK. I only wanted to buy a single car, but I felt the least I could do was buy British and add to the 1.3m exports a year from the UK.

If it was just exports I wanted to boost, I could have gone for a wider range -  not just Jaguars, Land Rovers or Aston Martins but also Hondas, Nissans, Toyotas, Fords or Vauxhalls (Formula One cars were out of my price range, but nearly all of the Grand Prix starting grid contenders do come from the UK).

But I also wanted to help a German inward investor too - and that's why I was left with the above list of three brands. VW have the Bentley name in their vast stable and BMW have Rolls Royce and Mini under their wing. Already producing a third of BMW engines in the UK, and having announced a £500m investment in UK plants last year, BMW probably don't need my help.

But I felt I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I went for anything else, so we ordered ourselves a bright red Mini. And this week I found myself in Cowley, just outside Oxford, having a tour of the facility where my car was not just built but was lovingly crafted.

I was hugely impressed by what I saw from a committed group of men and women who are clearly proud of what they do. Here is not a place where they make Monday cars, as Germans would call a badly-made vehicle.

What strikes a visitor early is that this is a Mini factory, not a BMW one. The safety clothing, the signage, even the garish colour of the pillars in the factory, all scream Mini.

And speaking to the staff there - or associates as they are called - they appreciate the balance between British manufacturing, design and passion and German process and organisation.

"You could feel the difference when we came under German ownership," said one, as we drove between two of the facilities in his BMW. "They brought in a lot more processes and changed the way we did things - but it was all welcome because we needed those changes.
"This is still a Mini plant but we feel better for being part of a wider family - together we have transformed this brand."

Not only was the Prime Minister involved in the announcement of the £500m investment in the BMW UK plants, he was also in Cowley last year to drive the two millionth Mini off the production line.

It truly is a magnificent story of a re-born British brand.  Some of the Cowley team had even worked on the last of the old Minis and are now proudly working on the next model.

I live in Germany, a country which makes over three million cars and has the automobile in its pysche but I - and 22 percent more Germans than last year - still would rather have a Mini made in the UK and brought over here.

Rumours of the death of the British automobile industry are not just premature but completely false. Ask any of the Rolls Royce, Bentley or Mini drivers on the roads of Germany, or anywhere else in the world.

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  1. Comment by Mark posted on

    Whilst the UK car manufacturing industry may not be completely dead, it can hardly be compared to when it was at its height. Our car production used to be the envy of the world, but the destructive nature of the 70's and 80's on the industry means it will never be the same again, i fear.

    Anyone who can remember looking into a car showroom and seeing a completely British fleet of vehicles will know what I mean.