Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mass versus Custom Manufacturing

In a discussion, AH Challenge: British Leyland Still Going Strong, Nick Sumner has an analysis of the decline of the British auto industry.

Was British dominance of Formula One racing in the 70s, 80s and 90s a symptom of the decline of the British volume car industry or part of the cause? In the 80s and 90s the manufacture of Formula One cars was by and large a British cottage industry.

I think it might be seen as a symptom because F1 would attract the best engineering talent - if that talent saw no future in the volume side of the industry then getting into F1 would be even more attractive than would generally be the case. This would of course cause a decline in the engineering talent pool available to the volume manufacturers.

On the other hand it might be seen as part of the cause - did so much design and engineering talent accrue to F1 that there was too little left over for the volume industry?

I'm not saying for a moment that F1 might be the principal cause of the decline of the British car industry - that would be bad management - but did it have an effect?

In the 1950s, Italian manufacturers won the annual Formula One constructor’s championship eight times. British and German manufacturers managed one win each. The British volume car industry was both strong and profitable.

In the 1960s British manufacturers won seven times, the Italians won twice and the French once. The British volume car industry began to falter finding foreign competition increasingly difficult to beat.

In the 1970s British manufacturers again won seven times, Ferrari taking the other three championships. The competitiveness and quality of British volume cars declined steeply, markets were lost abroad and foreign penetration of the home market increased.

In the 80s all 10 championships were won by British manufacturers. The British volume car industry continued its precipitous decline.

In the 90s British manufacturers won eight of the constructors championships, the remaining two, were one by Benetton formula which at that time was a British registered company. The Benetton cars were also manufactured in Britain so you could argue that once again it was a clean sweep across the decade for British manufacturers. The British volume car industry died.

Is there a link here?

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