Sunday Column: Peter Griffiths – Tell me when my light turns green

Well the national budget cuts have filtered down into local government and only now are they dealing with the roads which have been crumbling since the snows and ice of early 2010. It’s getting pretty wearisome to have to wend and weave amongst the holes and cracks in the tarmacadam of the roads around Reading because, despite owning an exceptional but older car, there are clunks and creaks and rattles which do annoy. You also worry about what’s being loosened and worn excessively such as eyes and ear canals, let alone tail-gates and bushings.

Last year the local councils went around with buckets and spades filling in and patching up holes with loose stuff and tamping it down in half a day with a ‘that’ll do’ attitude borne of the councils not paying them enough to do a proper job. So now we have these other lumps and bumps around the place, as if they have simply inverted the holes which were present, so it is just as annoying.

The next complication is the reason there was a hole in the first place, the road had weakened in that spot so the road around the repair is weak too, which means the hole continues to expand and degrade leaving a halo of a trench around the patch-up half-a-job. Fantastic. This jerks our tyres around, stresses corroded suspension mountings, and tracking is messed up. Thanks, local council money-grubbers.

This always makes me think of the Germans and how they are famed for their autobahns and roads not being half as bad as ours. What is it that makes the difference? Well they built their roads properly in the first place by investing heavily in correct materials, and taking their time getting it done right first time. The obvious logic to this, sorry to point it out, is that it will last longer and so will not need huge expense laying out to repair it. How did they work this out? How did they keep this secret from us in the UK? They must have kept it secret because it’s too good an idea not to copy. Isn’t it?

Ford, when developing the first generation Mondeo, rented various BMW E30s during their R&D processes in order to simply copy how BMW had made their seats. They must have looked at and copied other aspects of the E30 because the Mondeo turned out to be a great car, and that is the only thing the ex-Ford engineer told me about when he told me of their rental games. His identity will remain secret – so don’t bother asking – because I’ve forgotten his name.

So what did Rover do? When was the last time they laid down firm foundations and built a car in the right way first time? They did not. British Leyland did not do that either. How did Jaguar make it out alive? They sold themselves to Ford, and then to Ratan Tata who has started to make properly quality stuff which cannot be denied, and they are still made in the United Kingdom for now. The point is that Jaguar have not had British backing since 1989 because BL were so incompetently short-sighted.

You may shout about crystal being as mud in comparison to hindsight but consider this – how did Mercedes, BMW, Toyota, Nissan or even General Motors survive where BL failed? They must have done something different. The argument about labour costs and unionisation falls down at the mention of GM because the American unions have been some of the most powerful in history and the wages were low but must still have been on a level with UK rates. US car sales have been so monumentally huge that profit margins in the showrooms alone must have paid for the warranties and servicing required on the mostly terrible products they spewed out.

Research reveals that Merc and BMW employed cheap labour from their bordering neighbour nations and beyond at pitiful levels, which means that they must have countered this by making sure the parts go together well and properly on the assembly lines, the slaves simply could not build them badly if they tried. The story is similar in the Orient but not exactly the same. Honda can build their motors to such high tolerances and, along with their compatriots, have forged a reputation for reliability which has only recently been hapeth of tar’d to near catastrophe by two small bits of metal being absent from the pedal box.

Now, patriotism is a mug’s game and a dangerous thing in the hands of idiots so I do not subscribe to it. It would be great to have a motor industry to be proud of in this country but we do not and will not, so don’t expect me to be happy about the ‘return’ of the MG brand because it hasn’t returned.

The labour rates in this nation are obviously sustainable for the Japanese to make certain models here but Rover couldn’t handle it. The unions didn’t kill Rover in this country, British Aerospace Engineering did. BAE bought Rover, stripped and sold their assets, and sold the remainder to BMW. What was BAE going to do with the worlds greatest 4×4 system and the Mini brand? Nothing.

The story of the time BAE spent in ownership of Rover is not oft told, chiefly because it is so short, but mainly because it is gory and would be funny if not so embarrassing. They did exactly what I just said they did. So BMW came in and had a little fun with the last remaining truly British motor manufacturer which resulted in, when they finally fled, leaving some of their own countrymen in the lurch – not only without jobs – but without jobs in the middle of Birmingham.

This left Rover in the hands of a conglomerate of suits who quickly realised the extent of what they did not own. Quite who fooled them into thinking it was a goer is beyond this keyboard surfer but own it they did, and they clearly regretted this given their hasty exits to tropical beaches with (below-averagely) hard-working people’s pensions in their back pockets.

You may think that Vauxhall are and have been a manufacturer of sub-par and average cars over the years and you’d be right, but it’s nothing compared to the inadequacies that Austin Rover have foisted upon this nation (never the world) for so many years. The Montego screams out at me from under the feet of even the equivalent rubbish of the time, the cynicism and insult of using the MG badge on it and the paltry Maestro was too much for me even as a 10-year-old.

Yes – I’m ranting now!  It is because I am angry about it. But you must see that it is basically a result of my disappointment that we cannot represent on the world stage as a mainstream and large-scale manufacturer of quality cars in the same way as Germany or Japan can. Rover embodied the elementary mistakes which brought down every single other British car company, complacent management, heads buried in the sand in accounting, and a lack of imagination in R&D.

So when the holes and cracks developed they filled them with Z-cars. Not lovely honest cars like Zephyr’s or Zodiacs, but re-badged beige saloons and hatchbacks. Re-badged! The only interesting thing to come from it was the ZT-260 and that had an ancient American heart. And at the very end, when even I could pinpoint the exact date of their total failure, they ‘made’ the CityRover. How could anyone take that seriously? We blew our chance of retaining one of our last great industries on a half-star crash-rated wooden shed with two-pence pieces for wheels. That man who made that decision is probably the man who fills in the holes in our roads now, instead of doing a proper job of it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s