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‘The UK should be fighting for a Chinese or Korean car factory’

Mike Rutherford thinks UK politicians should be seeking to establish a new state-of-the-art and job-creating Asian car factory on British soil

Opinion - Hyundai factory

Under normal circumstances, a four-against-one brawl would be nauseatingly unfair, with an inevitable loser – the outnumbered solo defendant.

But not in this particular punch-up comprising 12 gruelling rounds/months of battle in 2023. The post-fight scorecard says it all: the sluggish heavyweight quartet representing the car-producing continents of Europe, North America, South America and Africa were comprehensively beaten up by a leaner, meaner, solitary opponent: Asia.

Up-to-the-minute annual production numbers prove the point. A total of 68 million cars were built last year and Asia produced the vast majority (almost 47 million). Very much in the minority were the combined efforts of Europe (15m), the Americas (5m), Africa (800,000) and, come to that, every other continent/region/country on the planet.

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Put another way, in the battle to become the undisputed world champion of car producers, the Asians have comfortably won, while the bruised and battered Rest of the World has painfully lost. Asia built 47m cars in ’23 and within a year or two it’s likely to produce in excess of a million a week.   

But it’s not just China (with 26.1 million cars built last year) that’s allowing Asia to beat up all the other car-making continents put together. Fellow Asian fighters Japan (7.8m), India (4.8m) and South Korea (3.9m) are also punching well above their weights.

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By some margin, Germany (4.1m) emerges as the most powerful, highest-performing maker in the west, while Spain (1.9m) has done brilliantly to claim the No.6 in the world and No. 2 in Europe slots. Other surprises include Brazil (1.8m) remaining ahead of the USA (1.7m). What’s more, if the quiet little Czech Republic (1.4m) continues to expand at the astonishing rate it’s been growing lately, it’ll soon overtake the loud, ol’ US. I feel a Biden or Trump bail-out is imminent, so good luck with that, America.

Underdogs Indonesia (1.2m) and Slovakia (1.1m) have no mainstream brands, yet have battered France (1.0m), which is blessed with several. Similarly in ’23, Iran (998,000) and Turkey (953,000) have beaten the UK (905,000) and Italy (542,000), which have plenty of impressive brands but not enough products rolling off their many production lines.

The understandably worried Italian government is understood to want at least one Chinese car factory on its soil. And I think UK politicians should urgently seek the same for Britain – if only to replace Honda, which recently walked away from its factory and workers in Blighty, thus leaving a vacancy for another Asian mass-manufacturer to fill.

BYD of China, Vinfast of Vietnam, or Hyundai Group of South Korea are among my preferred candidates. If we can’t beat this new and impressive breed of Asian makers, let ’em join us. We have enough space, state wealth and capable workers to encourage such firms to establish state-of-the-art, job-creating factories on greenfield sites in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. So let us, in the 2020s, invite these and similar firms in. Just as we successfully invited and accepted Nissan and Toyota in the eighties.

Would you like to see a Chinese or Korean car factory on British soil? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section...

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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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