Political drive

We have a double problem related to the automotive industry that causes a clash between engineering excellence and political concerns in reference to the automotive sector within the UK.

This stems from the disappearance of the true British car manufacturing sector during the 1980s, to be replaced by Japanese companies moving some of their car manufacturing to the UK under favourable financial conditions. In other words, as British car works lost their employment through the failing British car manufacturing industry, it was clearly politically expedient to have a replacement employment opportunity with a near direct transfer.

This is where companies such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda moved in to take on board the former British car industry workers.

So why Japanese car manufacturers and not other countries? The reasons become rather simple, including a manufacturing base to cover Britain and Ireland, both of whom use right-hand-drive cars, and under favourable financial conditions, these companies were able to manufacture and ship cars to Japan, as Japan also uses right-hand-drive cars. One location, made financially attractive through political means, two conveniently located countries to purchase the cars, cheap exports back to Japan and minimal unemployment.

As the influx of Japanese car manufacturing into the UK was politically attractive and prevented a significant increase in unemployment, this means that it remains politically desirable to retain this element of employment.

For this reason, combined with the high reliability of Japanese cars, political bias overwhelms any concerns as to whether these Japanese companies are pushing the boundaries of automotive technology. Therefore, no matter how good engineers may be in terms of innovative research work and development — such as pure electric cars — saving face politically will always overpower any engineering excellence that may be available, particularly with respect to innovative, revolutionary ideas.

Political thinking is always short term in a crisis. In fact, this is true in the UK virtually all the time. Therefore, the consideration of real, innovative products has long since departed.

I doubt that we shall have a return to British world brilliance in engineering innovation, such as the Harrier aircraft, as the political decision was made years ago to pursue the idea of Britain becoming the financial centre of the world, not for technological innovation.

Now that the financial sector has fallen down, again exacerbated through political decisions, the UK manufacturing base, much of which is foreign in terms of ownership, cannot be seen to fail, as this will be very damaging politically.

Andrew Porter, Hitchin