When I was about 10 years old my party trick was to be able to distinguish the different cars on the road at night by the shapes of their headlights. My parents never ceased to be amazed at how accurate my recognition skills were – it was a true measure of how much I loved cars. Although it’s been a good 20 years since I last (successfully) performed this trick, my love for the automobile has not waned.
But this week’s Frankfurt Motor Show was not just hugely enjoyable for the selection of deliciously tantalising new cars that I could sit in or stroke, but also because of what was in them and where they were made.
Accompanying Business Minister Mark Prisk and industry-heavyweight Professor Richard Parry-Jones co-chair of the Automotive Council around the show, it was a delight to hear a) how successful and confident the UK-based manufacturers are and b) how many of the key Tier 1 suppliers are either in the UK or want to be there soon.
The myth about the UK not making anything anymore is not worth a mushroom (as the Germans would say) and has been disproved again in Frankfurt.
It was particularly heartening to hear the story of one German Tier One electrical parts supplier who not only has a significant facility in the UK but that this facility exports many of its products back to Germany.
There is no doubting the strength of the automobile sector in Germany – how can the home of VW, Audi, Mercedes, Porsche and BMW be anything other than the largest and most successful producer in Europe?
So when German companies choose to invest heavily and substantially and repeatedly in the UK, you know we must have a strong industry of our own.
BMW’s recent investment of an additional £500m in its UK manufacturing operations is a good example of why the UK can be proud and confident about its role in this high-tech and dynamic sector now and in the future.
And the sight of a Minister and a senior industry figure barreling around the world’s largest automotive show going from meeting to meeting with CEOs of manufacturers and major suppliers alike was heartening to witness.
The automotive sector may have suffered dramatically and publicly alongside the financial crisis but it is now dramatically and publicly going from strength to strength.
So to the cars themselves.
Bentley’s stand was as impressive as you would expect and hearing their story of success and growth while sitting in the cockpit of a Continental was a highlight. Alongside many others I drooled at the unashamed beauty of the new (Hybrid) Jaguar C-X16 and admired the robust, innovative practicality of the new Land Rover DC100.
Words fail me when trying to describe the new MINI Coupe or the uniquely British Rolls Royce Ghost (which includes teflon-coated umbrellas concealed within the front doors).And let’s not forget the range of Aston Martins, all living up to the expectations of that marquee brand.
How can people say we don’t make anything anymore?
I might not be able to recognise the lights at night these days, but I recognise quality. And the UK automotive sector is definitely driving in the right direction.