The Great and the British: But do our car makers deserve a medal?

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There’s no doubting that thanks to some exceptional individual and team performances at the 2012 Olympics, Cool Britannia is now very much back in vogue. Whether you’re lucky enough to have seen the action live, or have been watching at home, in a bar or at work, the sight of 000’s of Union Jacks waving in fervent admiration can only reinforce the feelings of pride and passion that resonate across this small island nation.

Yet take a short trip from Stratford’s Olympic Park, down the Mile End Road and into London’s financial district, and you’ll find a very different type of atmosphere. Britain may be bustling with sporting pride but it is also constrained in a mire of stagnant economic growth, Euro-zone meltdowns and wild fluctuations across global commodities markets. The mood, right now, may be bright across the green and pleasant land, but it’s far more sober as you venture into the out-of-town industrial areas.

For the large multi-nationals, the down-turn is an unwelcome interruption to carefully honed forecasts: Strategies are being put on hold, costs are being addressed, jobs are being cut. But despite the “inconvenience”, corporate hubs remain readied for better times; budgets for development and marketing might be refined but the spending remains focussed on a return to profit.

Small and specialised businesses, such as those engaged in niche automotive production, are not so fortunate. The automated relationships offered by banks, the escalating costs of meeting regulatory standards, the ability to keep pace with new technologies, the decline in domestic sales, and the risks in attempting to compete in overseas markets are making these tough times for some of our much loved brands.

Over the last few years, we have lost TVR, Marcos, Bristol and more recently Lola. These were all once proud names, famed for building beautiful (if not always reliable) cars that served a loyal band of enthusiastic customers. And then there is Lotus and the woeful saga of inept tenure and “that” plan. These are dark times.

During the next few weeks, we will be talking to some of the businesses and personalities that now form the mainstay of Britain’s sports car industry, seeking to understand their visions and their struggles as we enter the most challenging period of the new Millennium. We don’t always expect it to make comfortable reading but we do hope that we’ll gain a valuable insight into where our favourite marques are headed, how they’re setting about their journey and if they’re likely to survive this journey.

First Stop: Radical Sportscars