Special Report: In foreign hands, British automakers overtake France

Wed Oct 1, 2014 7:46am EDT
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By Costas Pitas and Gilles Guillaume

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - When Britain lost its last native car company 20 years ago, it was lamented across the political spectrum as a national catastrophe.

"The sheer stupidity and immorality of this betrayal is too scandalous to be ignored," wrote a columnist in the conservative Times of London.

The left-leaning Guardian bemoaned: "No one can conceive of Renault, Fiat or indeed BMW fattening themselves up after years of emaciation, ready for sell-off to a foreign rival.”

Britain’s Rover was falling into the hands of BMW - 50 years after Germany had begun pulling itself out of the economic abyss left by the Second World War.

The blow to British pride was made all the more acute by the success of France, where Peugeot and Renault were speeding ahead. In 1994 French producers made more than three million cars, double Britain's output.

Now, the tables have turned dramatically. Britain last year produced more cars than France for the first time in decades: 1.51 million to France’s 1.46 million. The French retain a narrow lead when light vans are included, but Britain is set to pass them soon and become Europe’s No.3 after Germany and Spain.

The value of British car exports has doubled in the past 10 years, and this year Britain enjoyed its best-ever July for automobile exports since industry records began in the 1920s.

In France, meanwhile, government assistance has kept Peugeot afloat as both it and Renault lost domestic market share. “Car production in France has suffered greatly these past 10 years,” France’s new Finance Minister Emmanuel Macron told reporters at a presentation of Peugeot’s compressed-air hybrid cars in Paris on Tuesday.   Continued...

Peugeot miniature model vintage cars are lined-up in the store at French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen headquarters in Paris in this February 13, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files