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UK production set to beat golden years of the 1970s

Car production in the UK looks set to break the record achieved in the manufacturing heyday of the 1970s.

in 1972 production peaked at 1.92 million and today, while the badge on the cars may not be British the build is increasingly likely to be.

The latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that British car makers are set to build more than 1.7 million vehicles in 2004 - the highest for more than 30 years.

Across Europe, Britain now lags behind only Germany and France and produces more cars than Italy.

The success is typified by the worldwide popularity of the Mini, built at German-owned BMW’s Oxford factory. Last month the 500,000th Mini rolled off the production line, two years ahead of schedule. Seven out of every ten cars are sent overseas.

Rolls-Royce, also owned by BMW, has just built its 1,000th Phantom at its factory in Goodwood, West Sussex, despite a £250,000 price tag, and Peugeot’s Ryton factory, in Coventry, is producing almost 200,000 popular 206 models every 12 months.

Britain now produces nine volume brands, plus Rolls-Royce, Bentley and smaller marques such as Morgan and Lotus. Germany, with the strongest motor industry in Europe, produces only six brands.

If the current rate of expansion continues, output will surpass the record level of 1972 - a year when British Leyland was the third biggest car firm in the world and the West Midlands was the heart of Europe’s car industry.

Britain’s car industry has been saved and rejuvenated by foreign ownership, be it Japanese, American or German.

Professor Peter Cooke, the head of the Nottingham University Business School Centre for Automotive Industry Management, said: "We have overcome the problems we faced 30 years ago in terms of quality and with the investment that has been made in the plants, many of them on greenfield sites.

"This was one of the problems with the motor industry in the past. Being the first in the world, a lot of our plants were in unsuitable locations, but following the influx of new manufacturers in the 1980s we now have very efficient greenfield factories like Sunderland and Swindon - that has made a huge difference."

In 2002, the automotive manufacturing sector’s turnover was in excess of £43 billion, accounting for more than 9% of total manufacturing turnover.

Car exports totalled nearly £21 billion in value, accounting for nearly 4% of total UK exports and 4% of UK GDP.

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