LONDON - Most great UK automotive names have either died or are owned by non-Britons. But from the remains of the UK motor industry has grown a thriving group of companies offering technical solutions to global automakers.
Companies such as Mayflower, Tickford, Ricardo, Hawtal Whiting, Cosworth and Lotus have carved out markets for themselves. Together they are establishing a reputation for the UK as a center of engineering excellence.
This expertise has been used in particular in the emerging markets in Asia and the Pacific Rim. As countries such as South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan develop their own auto industries, they call on companies in the UK to help them.
All the major South Korean companies have contracted with UK engineers.
Daewoo and Malaysia's Proton have both bought into the UK engineering scene. Daewoo bought its Worthing technical and styling center from Mayflower Corp. as part of Mayflower's facilities rationalization after its acquisition of IAD.
Proton last year acquired Lotus, mainly for its prized engineering department. Daewoo had also been a bidder. One reason Asian makers like the UK is language. English is the universal second language in the Orient.
Martin Sellen, automotive business manager of Coventry-based MGA Developments, believes much of the success of the UK companies is because they draw on a large pool of well-trained engineers. This is a direct result of the quality of training available to automotive engineers in the past through apprentice programs that are now largely abandoned.
'Car manufacturers used to recruit 200 school leavers a year on to an apprenticeship program giving five years' on-the-job training,' he says. 'At any time, that meant there were 1,000 people getting a good, practical training.'
Russ Murty, business development manager for body engineering specialist Hawtal Whiting, agrees. 'Those apprenticeships were so good, and those people are still around,' he said.
He believes the end of the apprenticeships in the 1980s is now starting to cause problems. 'Our engineers are getting older - the average age in our drawing room is very high. We have to get younger people in or else we could lose our reputation.'
He says Hawtal Whiting is now starting to offer its own apprenticeships - 'about two or three a year' - in order to bring in new blood.
Hawtal Whiting is winning 20-30 percent of its business from developing markets in the far east, and that is leading to a different focus.
'We're increasingly offering a training service,' says Murty. 'The emerging carmakers aren't just saying 1/8make us a car,' they're saying 1/8show us how to make it.' '
Andrew Walmsley, managing director of engine and powertrain specialist Cosworth Engineering Ltd. and former head of Lotus Engineering, believes motorsports has played a key role in the development of the UK engineering consultants.
'Cosworth started as a racing car engineering company,' he says. 'We established a castings foundry to make cylinder blocks and heads in low volumes for racing programs. Then Ford wanted to apply some of the race car imagery to its road cars, so we started producing engines for its road cars. Now we have a manufacturing facility in Wellingborough that can produce 50,000 units a year.'
Cosworth makes 24-valve, V-6 engines for the Scorpio and also produces engines for Rolls-Royce, a sister company within the Vickers Group. Walmsley says the emphasis has moved away from racing.
'Our biggest area of business at the moment is engine emissions control and calibration,' he says.
MGA's Sellen believes the shift towards simultaneous engineering and greater involvement with the Tier 1 suppliers is opening up new opportunities for the UK consultants.
'Ford 2000 is putting more responsibility on to its suppliers, and we're seeing a cascade effect. Suppliers are geared up to mass-produce, but maybe not to engineer a prototype. That's where we can help.'
He believes the result of these changes will be shorter development cycles and a greater diversity of cars being produced on common platforms - and that will mean manufacturers will have to outsource more work.