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Why making engines, not cars, is the real sign of UK manufacturing health

By Jay Nagley

It is widely known that British car manufacturing is resurgent. However, the area really powering ahead is engine manufacturing, with UK production lines putting out 1.7 engines for every car in 2013 (2.55 million engines vs 1.5 million cars, according to the SMMT). Bentley’s recent announcement that Crewe would become its centre of excellence for W12 engine manufacturing is just the latest good news for a country that now has more engine manufacturing plants than any European country bar Germany.


Jay Nagley was a market analyst at Porsche Cars GB before spending the past 13 years as the head of Redspy Automotive, his own analysis and forecasting consultancy.


Engine manufacturing is the most valuable part of making a car, and the most high-tech. Sat-nav may seem more 21st-century than a petrol engine that can trace its roots back nearly 130 years, but the R&D required for an engine to meet emissions and fuel economy targets is prodigious. Ford’s 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine is far more sophisticated than a typical 1980s supercar engine, which is why, in 125 PS form, it has more power per litre than a pre-1995 Porsche 911 Turbo.

The sector will get another boost next year, when Jaguar Land Rover’s Wolverhampton factory comes on stream, making its new AJ200 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines. Initially, these will largely replace Ford’s four-cylinder units, but the planned expansion of Jaguar should provide a substantial net boost to overall UK engine manufacturing.

As well as JLR and Bentley, BMW, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Honda all make engines here, giving the UK the strength in depth that advanced manufacturing requires. France, despite making more cars, has only three engine plants, while Italy essentially only has the Fiat group.

Back in the dark days of the 1980s, Frank Williams (of Formula One fame) said Britain was fantastic at new ideas and great at anything that needed small teams of talented people – hence Britain’s success in Formula One. However, he reckoned Britain was very poor at managing large teams of people – hence the slow death of British Leyland.

UK is Europe's third-biggest engine producer

Fortunately, Britain has kept its gift for small teams, but improved its management of larger ones. The UK makes the third highest volume of engines in Europe, behind Germany (more than 4m) and France (2.75m). However, there is a good chance that JLR’s expansion will take it into second place.

The real surprise is who is in fourth place: Hungary. Being cheap and close to southern Germany made it a magnet for Audi, which has steadily transferred engine production from Ingolstadt to “Audi Hungaria” in Gyor. Audi claims it is the world’s biggest car engine factory, making 1.9m units a year (the balance of Hungarian engine production comes from a GM plant in Szentgotthárd).

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  • Mike Hernandez - 01/06/2014 20:17

    Excellent article, very informative and a great teaching tool for tech students !! Congratulations.