Bentley plant in Crewe

Business Focus: Full marques for top-notch car manufacturers

Upmarket auto brands help drive UK manufacturing growth, while overseas industrial giants eye Britain’s nuclear plans.

It’s a good month for British premium car brands, with Bentley, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce all showing growth. Meanwhile, UK car sales for 2013 rose 10 per cent to 2.26 million, their strongest performance since 2007. Success for the likes of Bentley is measured not in high-volume domestic sales, but in a growing share of major overseas developing markets.

Bentley, based in Crewe, Cheshire, and owned by VW, reported that its total sales last year rose 11 per cent to 10,120 - beating its previous record of just over 10,000 in 2007. The strong growth was driven by a 28 per cent jump in sales to the Americas, which compensated for a 3 per cent drop in deliveries to China, a significant market for premium marques. The company revealed that it is working on its first hybrid vehicle, a plug-in 4x4.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars also announced tentative proposals for its first 4x4, although not a hybrid model. Rolls-Royce reported unprecedented global sales for 2013, it fourth successive record year. It delivered 3,630 vehicles last year, 1.5 per cent up on 2012. The Middle East saw a 17 per cent rise in sales, with China growing 11 per cent.

Rolls-Royce also said it would provide an extra 100 jobs at its Goodwood factory in West Sussex. The group’s owner, BMW, announced plans to increase UK investment, focused on its Mini car and its engine plants.

Even better news came from Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), which confirmed it was launching a recruitment programme for 600 staff for its new £500m engine manufacturing centre near Wolverhampton. The company, owned by Indian group Tata Motors, plans to develop the centre over several years. New four-cylinder diesel engines for a ‘baby’ Jaguar saloon will start rolling off the production line in 12 months’ time.

JLR’s sales were strong last year, rising by 19 per cent to 384,339 vehicles in the 12 months to November against the same period in 2012, with most of the growth occurring in China and Asia Pacific.

Over at arguably the UK’s most prestigious marque, Aston Martin, the picture remains mixed. The Warwickshire-based independent manufacturer, which saw losses of £34m in 2012, took a £12m hit last year as it killed off its unsuccessful new luxury mini brand, the Cygnet. Aston is now selling a small stake to Mercedes-Benz to support its engine-development work. Whether Aston can remain truly independent remains to be seen.

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