The rise of British built cars

Published 01 June 2016

Despite the popular belief that the UK is no longer a big car-making nation, the fact is that one in four cars on our roads is built in Britain. Currently there are more than 8.2 million British-built cars on the UK's roads, accounting for 24 per cent of the total.

So what's behind our love for a British made car? The answer is simple - foreign investment. Manufacturers like Nissan, Honda, Toyota and BMW - in the form of MINI - have all invested in production plants across the UK.

And the good news is that car production in Britain is on the up. Last year the UK produced just shy of 1.6 million cars and with more than £7 billion invested in UK production over the past two years, a new car now rolls off a UK production line every 20 seconds, with everything from the Nissan Leaf to the Range Rover built here.

Many of these cars are destined for foreign shores. The value of exports has doubled since 2005 with the US now the second biggest export market for British-built cars, after the EU and ahead of China. In fact more than 75 per cent of cars built in the UK are exported.

Of course, the majority of traditionally British manufacturers went to the wall a long time ago, although you will still find a decent number of cars from Austin, MG and Triumph registered in the UK. Plus even the odd Wolseley and Talbot, the latter once built at Ryton as part of the Rootes Group.

MG Rover was the last of the British made brands until it disappeared in 2005, although there are still a healthy number of Rover 25 and 75 models around, with more than 58,000 of the latter still registered.

However, these numbers are small fry when you look at the most popular of British-built cars on our roads.

It's two traditionally 'British' cars that lead the way. The Ford Fiesta, built at Dagenham from its launch in 1976 until 2002, is the most popular with almost 1.5 million registered in the UK.

Close behind is the Vauxhall Astra with more than 1.1 million on our roads. It's another car that has been built in the UK for a lengthy period of time, the first model coming off the Ellesmere Port production line in 1981, as pictured below. The latest seventh generation model is still built there - a real success story for British manufacturing.

Vauxhall Astra Mk1

That's followed somewhat surprisingly by the Peugeot 206, produced at the same Ryton plant that previously built the Peugeot 309 and 405.

But what stands out among the cars registered in our roads is the popularity of the Japanese brands. The Nissan Micra leads the way. It was built in Sunderland until 2010 and now the plant, which employs some 6000 people, produces the Qashqai, Leaf, Juke and Note. This year it also started building the new Infinti Q30. They now build more cars at Nissan Sunderland than the whole of Italy produces.

Then there's the Honda Civic, Jazz and CR-V, all built at Honda's plant in Swindon. The factory has the capacity to produce 400,000 cars are year. Honda chose Swindon due to its workforce, this was after all the manufacturing centre of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway.

Toyota produces the Avensis and Auris at its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire and has invested around £2.2 billion there.

It's important to remember that these figures are not production figures, they're the number of cars registered in the UK. That's whether they're on the road or SORN'd.

British brands are still well represented too. There are plenty of Jaguar and Land Rover models on our roads. Jaguar Land Rover is now owned by Indian firm Tata, but it's the older X-Type which has proved popular with around 100,000 still registered. Meanwhile the Land Rover Freelander, Discovery and Range Rover account for 550,000 cars on our roads.


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