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Mini motors on while other factories falter
ACROSS Europe, motor companies are closing down factories.
But here in Oxford, we’re bucking the trend.
In Belgium more than 20,000 workers took to the streets earlier this month to protest at the closure of the Mondeo and Galaxy factories there with the loss of 4,500 jobs.
In Italy, during the recent financial crisis, Fiat closed a plant in Sicily.
And closer to home, Ford is closing down plants in Dagenham and Southampton.
In Oxford though there is a continual success story, with rising Mini sales and an expanding model line.
Motor industry analyst Dr Peter Wells at the Centre for Automotive Industry at Cardiff University, says there are a number of reasons why Mini is such a success.
He said: “In some ways the constraints of Oxford have acted in the company’s favour.
“Cars are built to order, with the company building on the brand rather than concentrating on volume, continually chasing greater production rather than tailoring production to demand.
“The Mini plant benefits from a good, flexible and adaptable labour force and very few companies have been as profitable.”
He added: “Being at the premium end has helped. As with many other market sectors it is the middle market that has suffered recently.”
Much of Mini’s continuing success is down to the sheer appeal of the car.
But Dr Wells pointed out that the UK remains a good place to build cars because of the pound’s competitiveness with the Euro.
Competitors across Europe have been left scratching their heads about what the premium little car has got that they have not.
Many of them believe there is a 20 per cent overcapacity – or too many cars chasing too few customers – in the European market.
Earlier this year Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne called on the EU to take concerted action to tackle overproduction and to: “distribute the pain and suffering across all member states.”
Now the EU has published a report to help the struggling industry, which supports about 12 million European jobs.
Called CARS 2020 it proposes ways to bolster the business through investment in new technologies, but could in time lead to help for ailing manufacturers.
Unsurprisingly though successful car makers are less than keen on the idea of pumping money into unsuccessful producers, even if the overcapacity could in the near future lead to heavy discounting and therefore increased competition for them.
A spokesman for BMW, Angela Stangroom, told the Oxford Mail: “The additional sales volume generated by the Mini growth strategy and increasing complexity from further Mini models will require additional production capacity beyond the maximum production capacity of the Plant Oxford over the medium term. “ She added: “We have an investment plan for our plants in Oxford, Swindon and Hams Hall which will not be affected by CARS 2020 since we need this capacity for worldwide Mini production and not only exports to Europe.”
But BMW is indeed building on the brand with a target of 10 Mini models by 2020.
Already it has the Hatch; Clubman; Convertible; Countryman; Roadster; and now the latest addition to the family, the Paceman.
On top of all this reassuring news about Mini sales in a difficult market the company announced this week the launch of the fastest Mini ever: the £28,000 150 mph Mini John Cooper Works GP, with production limited to 2000 cars. It should help Mini race even further ahead.