Dismal Days for British Cars


The news is not great for some of Britain's oldest marques. The motoring malaise has spread from Detroit to Birmingham and Land Rover and Jaguar are going cap-in-hand to the government.

This has inevitably prompted debate. On the one hand are the nationalists who argue that these companies are no longer British and so shouldn't be turning to the British government to save them. On the other hand are the environmentalists who argue that cars are evil and have a short shelf life and Land Rover and Jaguar in particular are guilty of producing gas-guzzling monsters that pander to personal greed.

These are interesting arguments and in better times might carry some weight. Except for one simple issue - the thousands of people who owe their lifelihoods to the British car industry. While media folk and culture vultures argue theory over their foie gras people's livelihoods are at risk. The Midlands, an area I know well, has already lost most of its motor manufacturing heritage. It doesn't deserve and would struggle to recover from the loss of two more.

A bail isn't just prolonging the inevitable. Whatever the motor industry and the motor car look like in the future, we'll all be wedded to individual, personal modes of transport well into this century. This is the business that Land Rover and Jaguar are in. Yes, they need to speed up the adoption of technologies that are less polluting. But they cannot act alone. While petrol stations sell unleaded and diesel, they have to sell unleaded and diesel cars. Until someone somewhere creates an infrastructure based on alternative fuels as commercial entities, Jaguar and Land Rover have to meet market demand.

Land Rover and Jaguar are fundamentally profitable businesses that have been affected by the twin problems of Ford running off with last years profits (a fact well hidden at the time of the sale) which leaves nothing in the coffers for a rainy day and the onset of a particularly severe deluge. Sitting in TV and radio studios arguing about whether or not we should bail out these two companies is like fiddling around while Rome burns. This is our chance to save the jobs of people who have done nothing wrong except work hard. And the Midlands doesn't deserve another Rover fiasco.

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