Did you know that the the car announced today as the World Car of the Year is built in Liverpool? Possibly not – but you were probably aware of the Range Rover Evoque, even if only subconsciously.
The car has been much spotted around Liverpool over the last two years as the plant that builds the Evoque – a new small luxury crossover SUV with some styling supposedly by Victoria Beckham – is just a few miles out of the city centre at Halewood.
Not only that but Jaguar Land Rover held the official European launch for the car in Liverpool – with a raft of multimedia shot around the city’s most photogenic spots and a launch event that saw the old Wapping Tunnel that connects the docks with Edge Hill reopened for the amusement of journos.
Halewood is churning out Evoques as fast as it’s able to – but demand is outstripping supply to the extent that, should you order one now, you’ll be waiting ’til 2013 to take delivery. So, the Evoque is something of a Liverpool success story, as is the Halewood plant from which it derives.
Just a couple of years ago, as recession gripped the car industry, the future of Halewood was not assured. And a year or so earlier Land Rover had been put up for sale by former owners Ford. It was a tricky spell, but Jaguar Land Rover’s Liverpool plant is held in high regard; so much so that by 2013 there will be 4,500 people working at the plant – treble the number working there three years ago. Look over the water and Vauxhall Ellesmere Port is the ‘Home of the Astra’ – one of GM Europe’s most highly regarded factories.
It was a very different story just a few decades ago. British Leyland’s Triumph plant at Speke was notorious throughout the 1970’s British car industry, hardly renowned as a model of efficiency or industrial harmony, for being bottom of the league in terms of efficiency, productivity, quality, over-manning and absenteeism. In the country.
Not only that but its workforce was hideously work-shy. Mondays and Fridays were generally write-offs at the plant as one in four staff simply gave themselves the day off. Every week. Critics spoke of the ‘Mersey Disease’ – the notion that the region’s workforce were fundamentally lazy, bolshy and thick.
Management and unions were at each others throats and the plant’s state-of-the-art Speke 2 plant was eventually saddled with the fugly Triumph TR7; a car liked by virtually no-one that was a duffer even by British Leyland standards.
Against a background of industrial turmoil, union abuses of power, poor working practices and strong competition from European, US and Japanese manufacturers saw off British Leyland and much of the British car industry.
What remains today of the British car industry is inevitably foreign-owned. But Brits still design many world-beating cars. And we make many of them too. Up in Liverpool we make excellent cars like the Vauxhall Astra and, of course, the Range Rover Evoque.
Driving the latter around Liverpool today it was easy to draw a parallel between this new Range Rover – cool, stylish, individual – with a modern Liverpool unrecognisable from 30 years ago. Perhaps that’s rather trite, but the Evoque is a Liverpool success story is worth acknowledging.
Time was that scousers had a reputation for being good at stealing cars. Nowadays they’re good at making them – including what might be the best car in the world.