“There’s a tsunami of Chinese cars heading our way”

Mike Rutherford thinks China will soon overtake South Korea as the leading Asian car-producing country in Britain

Opinion - BYD Dolphin

Included in my diverse list of motoring milestones of the last 50 years (I know – I don’t look old enough!) is the 1973 incident when my Dad went to automotive rehab, then quit his habit of buying Fords, only to become hopelessly addicted to the then little-known exotic brand called Toyota.   

Although he was a fairy early adopter, he wasn’t the earliest. That’s because a visionary South London motor trader – John Pride – had, since the late sixties, established a cottage industry that shipped those ‘funny little Toyotas’ from state-of-the-art factories in Japan to little blokes like my old man in England. 

But only in the seventies did these and other shrewdly priced, well equipped, unquestionably reliable Japanese products establish themselves as genuine game changers in the UK. The cold, harsh truth is that mass vehicle-production techniques and quality control over there were superior to ours. And for these and related reasons, Longbridge (Rover Group), Ryton (Peugeot) and Dagenham (Ford) crashed, burned and died as car-producing factories.

But that’s just the start of the story. Come the early eighties, South Korean firms began the seemingly impossible process of giving Japan’s makers a dose of their own medicine in the UK. This they did by persuading buyers to defect from Japanese to Korean products, just as Japan had earlier persuaded Brits to turn their back on ailing UK or UK-based car makers.    

Four decades on, the Koreans have achieved the unthinkable by beating the Japanese at their own game in Britain, where Hyundai outsells Nissan, and Kia is outselling Toyota, Nissan and every other brand from Japan. Plus, Korean manufacturers are at least partly to blame for the likes of Daihatsu, Infiniti and Mitsubishi withdrawing from the UK market. Meanwhile, Honda has conceded defeat by shutting its Swindon factory. All that means South Korea is arguably the leading Asian car-producing country in Britain right now. 

But not for much longer, I suspect. From mid-2023 the Chinese are arriving in Britain proper – harder, stronger and in bigger numbers than you might imagine. Until now, China has merely dabbled in the UK with little more than a quiet, patient, exploratory approach supported by understated products. But other, far superior, higher-tech, better-looking, state-of-the-art models are currently on giant ships en route to Blighty. 

In China and elsewhere, I’ve already test driven or closely examined some of these models. And if they impress you, dear reader, as much as they’ve impressed me so far, you may just feel compelled to order one – particularly because supplies will be plentiful. China, remember, already builds 23.8 million cars (including Teslas) annually. And it has more than enough land, workers and funds to build many millions more.  

In which case, Japan (6.6 million) and South Korea (3.4m) are minnows next to China, which is more of an unstoppable great whale, already swimming at speed towards Britain. 

After the Japanese storm, then the Korean wave, I’m not merely forecasting that there’ll be a tsunami of Chinese cars heading our way from summer ’23, I’m guaranteeing it.

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know in the comments section...

Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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