Does the UK lead the world in automotive technology?

Britain has a long and rich heritage of manufacturing quality cars. For a long time, Britain was the leader of the pack when it came to the overall quality of package, including aesthetics and the experience of owning it. While Detroit always had bigger numbers, Britain ruled the roost as a destination for innovative and quality manufacturing. Does that leadership position continue today? It is a much debated topic and one that has strong arguments on both sides.

What is clear, though, is the fact that the auto manufacturing industry in the UK is going through something of a renaissance phase. The industry is growing again after decades of slow decline. Investments made to capacities a couple of years back are bearing fruit as the UK economy continues to show slow but sustained growth and new markets such as India absorb the additional uptake.

Over the past few years, companies such as Jaguar, BMW, and Nissan at the commercial end and McLaren at the elite end have collectively invested over £4.5 billion in upgrading plants and enhancing capacities. Year on year, numbers for new car sales in Britain continue to rise at an average rate of 8% to 9%. New car sales touched 2.6 million last year, the highest number since 2004.

Britain’s edge in automobile manufacturing has always been its ability to combine engineering with innovation and design aesthetics. From the aww-inspiring Mini to the awe-inspiring McLaren MP4-12C supercar, the secret of Britain’s success and longevity in auto manufacturing lies in its unique blend of aesthetics, design and engineering.

Today, Britain is the manufacturing hub for a large number of the global car majors. However, if we focus for a moment on the home-grown talent – manufacturers such as JLR, Bentley, McLaren, Rolls Royce and Vauxhall – we find that the torch of innovation, design and engineering continues to burn bright. While ownership of some of these names may have passed to foreign shores, they remain essentially British brands.

McLaren Automotive, or McLaren as everyone knows it, is a heritage manufacturer of high-performance vehicles. In its current avatar, the company was founded by Ron Dennis in 1989, but its roots go back to the late 60s and New Zealander Bruce McLaren’s desire to build a road car with race car performance. That desire led to the launch of the McLaren M6GT project. Over the years, the ownership morphed and changed hands, but the spirit of McLaren and its longstanding association with formula racing continues to this day.

The F1 and the MP4-12C supercar are among the most successful products from the McLaren stable. The MP4-12C launched in 2011, and was the brainchild of the former CEO at McLaren, Antony Sheriff. In true McLaren spirit, Antony wanted a road car that combined aesthetic design with cutting edge technology and performance. The MP4-12C was packed with cutting edge technologies such as its single cell carbon fibre frame, its seven-speed pre-cognition gearbox, and its F1-inspired brake steer. You can learn more about Antony here: Autoweek talks with Antony Sheriff.

Even in the highly competitive global environment of automobile manufacturing, most British manufacturers are still holding their own and continue to retain their competitive edge combining design, technology and engineering.

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