A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Britain used to be an important place in the world of technology and motoring. Shows and exhibitions came to this country as beacons for the latest generation of production cars and the next generation of concepts. But no more.
At best, the car shows we do have are themed around something other than new models, or they have to make do with cars that have been seen already in what are clearly more important parts of the motoring world, like Frankfurt or Tokyo. The last major British car show focused on new models breathed its last in 2008, but even then it was a shadow of its rivals. The 2010 show was cancelled because of the economic downturn and there are no plans to bring it back.
To be fair to good old Blighty, there are still classic car shows, supercar parades and of course Top Gear Live, which is both of those things rolled into one, with added buffoonery from Clarkson, Hammond and May.
But to the global motor industry, Britain now seems to be a bit part player. Nobody appears concerned with making sure London is the place that their newest models are seen first. When you look at it, there’s a good deal of car building going on in this country.
British hands are responsible for models from Nissan, Honda, Ford, Mini, Jaguar, Land Rover, MG, Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls Royce, not forgetting the incredible success story that is Triumph Motorcycles. The thing is, the biggest UK employer in the sector, Jaguar Land Rover, employs less than 10,000 people across all its factories covering both brands. Compare that to Hyundai’s one plant in its native Korea, which employs 34,000 people and makes cars that are exported worldwide. Then factor in that all our plants, apart from Triumph’s Hinckley base, are owned by foreign companies.
There’s just not enough manufacturing muscle here to make the UK worth holding a prestige world car show at. The 2011 Frankfurt show has official backing from Mercedes-Benz, but Germany also has the combined might of Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and Porsche to reference when making its claim for the worldwide automotive media’s attention. We have nothing home-grown that can compete to draw the crowds – and the world premieres – back to this country, and that’s a real shame for the country’s kids.
I remember going to big domestic motor shows as a child and being fascinated not just by the never-before-seen cars, but by the fact that it was in a location I could relate to. I don’t have much interest in globetrotting to see the latest models, but if they were anywhere in Britain I’d make the effort. I’d take my kids, too, if I had any.
The lack of a really prestigious motor show is helping to kill off any chance of a bright young Brit’s imagination being sparked; something that might start a chain reaction and lead to the resurrection of the British motor industry. Far-fetched, you might say, but you miss 100% of the shots you never take. We desperately need someone to take a shot in this country, but there’s little motivation or patriotism for young entrepreneurs to draw on.
Triumph Motorcycles proved that it’s possible. The company rose from the ashes with nothing but a prestige name from the annals of history, and now it’s a world beater. We just need someone to make it work for cars.