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Car confidential: There’s no point in clinging to the past

I saw another small corner of the British automotive landscape stutter to a close the other day. Aston Martin called time on its historic Newport Pagnell factory, as it consolidates production at the modern Gaydon plant in nearby Warwickshire.

It was a very British day. The sun made a rare appearance, champagne corks popped and smartly blazered Aston owners chattered away in a respectful murmur.

There was no talk of revolution or even anger that Aston’s home for 49 years was being turned into shops and flats. There was just quiet acceptance.

Even the town mayor Simon Baines was there (he drives a Mazda MX-5).

“It’s an awful shame they’re leaving Newport Pagnell, I feel very sad,” he lamented.

“But it’s good for Aston Martin that they’re flourishing – so many other British car companies are going down the plughole.”

He’s right. Aston Martin is a company on a roll, and it didn’t get to where it is today – 7,000 cars a year mainly in the Gaydon factory – through clinging to the past.

To put that into perspective, Aston built just 13,000 cars in half a century at Newport Pagnell, latterly the retired Vanquish.

The old-fashioned ‘factory’ was a relic from a previous age. The portrait of the Queen and the clubby leather armchairs in the Sunnyside boardroom pay testament to that fact.

The Newport Pagnell closure is more of an emotional jolt than a commercial shock.

And it reminded me that the carmakers destined to prosper in modern Britain are those that embrace the future.

Now that Jaguar and Land Rover are following Aston’s exit from the clutches of the Ford empire, I can’t help but think that their fortunes would be brighter had they released their grip on the past.

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