Das Auto: The Germans, Their Cars and Us (2013) Movie Script

MUSIC: "Spooky"
by Dusty Springfield
# In the cool of the evening
# When everything is
getting kind of groovy... #
The Mini - supreme symbol
of British style, design
and ingenuity.
In 2012, more than 300,000
were sold around the world.
# I've got some plans for tonight
# And then I stop... #
And the great thing about it
is that more than 50 years
after the first Mini
rolled off the assembly lines,
they're still made here in Oxford
at the Cowley plant -
the place the Mini was born.
It's a global phenomenon, and one
still proudly made in Britain.
But you know the irony?
You know who actually owns
this great British icon,
built in a plant 100 years old?
The Germans.
MUSIC: "Fade To Grey"
by Visage
We are living in
an age of German empire.
Amid extraordinary turmoil
in the capitals of Europe,
Germany commands more raw power
than at any time since
the Second World War.
This is an empire of German
engineering, German expertise,
and German exports -
built not on the Panzer,
but on the Polo and the Passat.
A new order, symbolised by
the speed, power and beauty
of the automobile.
Buying a car in Germany is not
just a grubby transaction,
it's engaging in an immensely
serious, culturally-rich,
and occasionally rather
beautiful and moving event.
This isn't just a story about cars,
it's about economic power
and political clout,
because in today's Europe,
it's Germany that calls the shots.
And as we confront the new
challenges of the 21st century -
an age of cut-throat competition
on a dizzyingly global scale -
what can we learn form
our failures and their successes?
What did we get wrong and
what did the Germans get so right?
# We fade to grey... #
MUSIC: "Mr Blue Sky"
by ELO
# Sun is shining in the sky... #
When I was growing up in the '70s
and '80s, my dad had a Rover -
the quintessential British car.
So did his father.
# It's a beautiful new day... #
But although I think of myself
as pretty patriotic,
I don't drive a British car today...
I drive a German one.
# Mr Blue Sky is
living here today... #
And I'm not alone. A few months ago,
a poll asked people what brand
of car they'd most like to drive.
Now, number one was Volkswagen -
they're German.
Number two was Audi -
they're German.
Number three was Mercedes -
they're German.
Are you beginning to spot the trend?
MUSIC: "Cars"
by Gary Numan
I haven't driven
another... type of car -
it's been Volkswagens,
Audis or Mercedes,
The fit and finish of the car -
in a German car -
for the comparable car
is a lot better.
Well, I went off to buy a new Rover
and they told me I had to wait
about six months for delivery -
this was 30 years ago.
And this was in the garage opposite.
Well, not this one, but the new BMW
was in the garage opposite,
so I bought the BM
and I've bought them ever since.
Germany exports more cars to Britain
than to any other country
in the world.
So why don't we buy British?
Well, how could we?
What is a British car?
Bentley, for instance,
is owned by the Germans.
Rolls-Royce? German.
Jaguar? Indian.
Land Rover? Indian.
MG Rover belongs to the Chinese.
And even James Bond's
favourite car - the Aston Martin -
is owned by the Kuwaitis
and Italians.
Only a handful of tiny,
specialist car-makers remain.
Does this matter, though?
Isn't a car just a means
of getting from A to B?
In many ways, the motor car
has usurped the role
of the work of art
in our modern age.
In that it represents
collective yearnings,
it represents, you know, desire.
It represents an idea of progress,
of faith in technology,
and there's no-one who's got that
more correct and more powerful
and made it more articulate
than the German motor industry.
The first car I ever bought didn't
come from an iconic British factory
like Cowley or Longbridge,
but from the German heartland
of Lower Saxony.
Welcome to Wolfsburg,
the home of Volkswagen -
a factory the size of Gibraltar.
VW has come an awfully long way
since it was set up in 1937
under the Nazis,
to build "people's cars" -
Volkswagen for Germany's masses.
Here in Wolfsburg, they've even
set up this "Autostadt" -
a theme park dedicated to the car,
visited by more than
two million people every year.
It's a temple not just
to the automobile
but to the technological glamour
of German modernity
and to the success of
Germany's economic model.
With its gleaming,
futuristic towers,
this "Car City" is
German capitalism incarnate.
And as VW's steely
commander-in-chief puts it,
they want to leave their stamp
on every country on earth.
TRANSLATION: We have a clear
strategy called "Strategy 2018".
In the year 2018, we want to
become the world's number one.
The number one in volume,
with more than ten million cars,
the number one in
customer satisfaction,
the number one in
employee satisfaction
even the number one in making money.
Under the generalship
of Herr Winterkorn,
VW are inching ever
closer to their goal.
Last year they made a record
profit - a cool 9.7 billion.
But the irony is that just as the
Mini has now become a German story -
so Volkswagen's post-war success
began as a British story
and its hero was the most
unlikely person imaginable.
His name was Ivan Hirst
and he was a major
in the Royal Electrical
and Mechanical Engineers.
And in August 1945, a few weeks
after the fall of the Third Reich,
Major Hirst arrived here
in Wolfsburg
with orders to secure this factory
on behalf of the victorious Allies.
Much of Germany's industrial base -
once the most impressive
infrastructure in Europe -
had been destroyed.
In the ruins, millions of starving
survivors scavenged for food.
And with the country divided
into four occupied zones,
Germany's revival - let alone
its rise to mastery in Europe -
seemed a very remote
prospect indeed.
When Ivan Hirst
arrived in Wolfsburg,
things were worse than
he had ever imagined.
In the factory itself,
the conditions were very grim.
In the press shops, for instance,
the roof was off.
And we had to sling tarpaulins
over each press...
on wooden poles,
to keep the snow off.
And yet it was at this moment -
at Germany's lowest ebb -
that Ivan Hirst laid the foundations
for the triumph of
the German automobile.
Many of Hirst's superiors
thought there was no point
saving the factory.
"You think you're opening
a car plant here?"
said the British car magnate
Sir William Rootes.
"Then you're a bloody fool. "
But Ivan Hirst could see
the potential here.
And he thought that the Germans
should be given a chance
to reshape their future as
a prosperous, peaceful nation.
His priority was to restart
production of a car
originally designed in the 1930s
by the Nazis.
This car, he thought,
would be the key
to getting Germany back on its feet.
And today, we call it the Beetle.
MUSIC: "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive"
by Bing Crosby with The Andrews Sisters
There was nothing very radical or
exciting about the little Beetle -
it was round and it was cute.
But by March 1946, the factory,
at the limits of its capacity,
was producing 1,000 Beetles a month
for the occupying forces
and for Germany's public services.
VW were on the road to recovery.
# Accentuate the positive... #
My chief, Colonel Charles Radclyffe,
said, "I think we've got
a world-beater here,
"it's another Model T".
And he spotted that
as early as 1948.
And yet the early Beetles
were far from perfect.
We always think of German cars
as ultra reliable.
But the interesting thing
about the original Beetle...
is that it wasn't.
As one of VW's
top executives put it,
it had "More faults than a dog
has fleas" but they fixed it,
and they went on fixing it.
And it was that obsessive
attention to detail,
that determination
to put the customer first,
that lifted Germany's car-makers
well ahead of their British rivals.
People asked us, did we not think
we were damaging British interests
by developing Volkswagen,
but our job was to help get the
German economy back onto its feet -
for political reasons, of course -
and that was what we were doing.
By the time Hirst left VW,
the company already
had global ambitions.
And its first conquest would be -
of all places - America.
Have you ever wondered
how the man who drives a snowplough
drives to the snowplough?
This one drives a Volkswagen.
So you can stop wondering.
Thanks to a canny
marketing campaign,
thousands of American drivers -
tired of their massive, macho cars -
began to fall in love
with the Beetle.
They were persuaded
that small was beautiful.
And by 1968, when this cheeky film,
The Love Bug, hit the screens,
the Americans had taken
the Beetle to their hearts.
Jim, that's water!
MUSIC: "Wenn"
by Peter Kraus
Meanwhile, Germany itself,
or at least the western half,
now cut off from the
Communist east, was booming.
Unemployment was down,
production was up.
Ordinary Germans were now richer
and more comfortable than ever.
They called it the
"Wirtschaftswunder" -
the Economic Miracle.
The traumas of the past
were forgotten.
Technicolor consumerism would
sew up the wounds of wartime.
The priority was to look forward,
to buy new homes, new appliances
and, of course, new cars.
This was a crucial period
in Germany's modern history.
By the end of the 1950s,
they hadn't just staged
an extraordinary recovery,
they had done the groundwork
for what is today
one of the most productive and
powerful economies on the planet.
But you might well be wondering,
where was Britain in all this?
After all, we had won the war.
Surely we had a head start,
didn't we?
NEWSREEL: 'On Wednesday, His Royal
Highness the Duke of Gloucester
'opened the first post-war
motor show at Earls Court,
'with congratulations to the industry
on its magnificent achievement
'of 100 million worth of cars
exported since the war ended. '
'50s Britain had never
had it so good.
We were now making and
selling more cars than ever.
At the start of the decade,
we were behind only the Americans
in the league table of
world car-exporters.
But things weren't quite
as rosy as they seemed
in the English country garden.
We always think of the 1970s
as the decade when things started
to go wrong for British industry.
But I don't think that's right.
By then it was already too late -
the rot had set in earlier.
I think it was in the affluent,
comfortable '50s
that the problems really began.
We were, I think, a bit TOO
affluent and comfortable,
a bit TOO complacent -
utterly oblivious to
the rise of our competitors.
Here she is, a wee Scots lassie.
Yes, it's Molly Weir. So, you're
a Morris Minor fan too, Molly?
Och aye, our Minor takes all the
family and our luggage in comfort.
It's very economical too,
but, you see, it's a Morris.
We might have had a big car industry
but size isn't everything.
The men running Britain's
car companies were getting old.
And by the jet-age 1950s,
their autocratic, amateur spirit
looked increasingly old-fashioned.
The English idea of
gentlemanly behaviour...
It involves a certain amount
of self-deprecation,
a certain bit of casualness,
we sort of distrust
seriousness and professionalism
in some ways
but not in our motor cars,
and the Germans
were able to provide us
with magnificent tokens of
professionalism and seriousness,
which our native manufacturers
could not.
They also worked rather better.
We did still make good cars like the
Morris Minor that I'm driving now,
but we didn't market them
as successfully as the Germans,
we didn't push them
aggressively enough overseas.
You know how many
Morris Minors we sold?
Over a million.
But do you know how many
Volkswagen Beetles the Germans sold?
20 million.
The real problem was that we were
blind to the expanding market
right on our doorstep -
More than two thirds
of our car exports
STILL went to the
British Commonwealth.
One of the biggest mistakes
we ever made as a country
was to overestimate
the importance of our Empire.
In those crucial two decades
after the Second World War,
our politicians and
our businessmen thought
that we didn't really need
to worry about Europe
because Britain had wider horizons.
Our car-makers, they thought,
would always be able to rely
on the captive markets
of our old colonies.
To put it bluntly, we'd always
be able to flog them our dregs.
The Standard Vanguard
was designed for export.
Its naval name was meant to recall
the great days of Britain's Empire.
There was only one problem -
the suspension.
When the Vanguard's proud new
owners took it out for a spin,
the car began to fall apart.
Good evening.
The Suez Canal is a name
familiar to everyone.
I've come to talk to you tonight
about what's happened there
in the last few day
and what it means to us.
And Britain's Empire, too,
was on the brink of collapse.
In 1956, Britain made a desperate
bid to recapture the Suez Canal -
the vital artery
for Middle Eastern oil.
But when the operation backfired,
petrol prices went through the roof.
Sound the trumpets.
Beat the drums.
Wave the flags.
British flags...
for the fabulous twins - the Austin 7
and the Morris Mini Minor.
MUSIC: "Say A Little Prayer"
by Burt Bacharach
As a result, designers for
the British Motor Corporation
came up with a new car
that was smaller
and needed less petrol.
They called it the Mini.
We got to make a car - a very
small car - for the housewife,
which is economical to run
and has lots of
shopping space inside
and therefore it doesn't
need a big boot.
Everything stows away
so neatly and easily.
Four happy people
in a big, big, little car.
MUSIC: "Everybody Be Happy"
by The Kinks
The Mini is probably the most
celebrated car in British history.
But while the Beetle
was the cornerstone
of Germany's 21st-century empire,
the Mini was a result of
Britain's imperial decline.
The Mini had been designed for
ordinary working-class families.
But by the late '60s,
it was being driven
by models, actors and pop singers.
Even its marketing was
less Coronation Street,
more Carnaby Street.
The Mini - cheap on petrol.
British made!
Small on the outside.
Big on the inside.
Don't just wave the flag, drive it.
The Mini was stylish,
but it was also cheap.
A basic model cost just 350.
But as a rival firm discovered,
the British Motor Corporation
were losing 30 for
every Mini they sold.
Ford are very good at costing
what a car cost to make,
and discovered that they must
be making it for a loss,
they couldn't see
how it was possible.
So, they actually sent
their report to the chairman
and said, "We think you need
to be charging more for this. "
And... it was ignored
and I think this pervades
a lot of the story
of the post-war British car industry.
Arrogance pervaded it.
There was a feeling, you know...
Britain had won the war,
it still had...
It was coming out of its Empire..
It very often knew best,
or thought it did.
And they felt, "Well, we don't
need to be told by Ford
"what we're doing right
and what we're doing wrong. "
But, in fact, they were
doing it very wrong.
MUSIC: "Son Of My Father"
by Chicory Tip
# Moulded, I was folded
I was preform dried
# Son of my father
# Commanded, I was branded
in a plastic vac
# Surrounded and confounded
by statistic facts... #
Far from being
a symbol of '60s cool,
the Mini was really
a symbol of something rotten
at the heart of the '60s economy,
a brilliantly-designed metaphor
for a managerial industry crippled
by a complacent leadership,
dreadful salesmanship and a fatal
culture of self-satisfaction.
SONG: "Theme from
Are You Being Served?"
Today, we're used to the idea
that when it comes
to manufacturing -
from your kitchen fridge
to your bathroom shower -
nobody does it better
than the Germans.
But, at the time,
Germany's economic revival
brought back bad memories.
Guten Morgen, mein "Herr-ing".
There you are, then.
Another load of Kraut chitfers.
That's 100 hats with
shaving brushes on the side.
We'll never sell them,
you know, Captain Peacock.
It is not for us to
reason why, Mr Humphries.
Young Mr Grace, in his wisdom,
has seen fit to mount a sales
campaign to push German goods.
Well, it's difficult enough
to sell English goods,
without a lot of rubbish
from the damned Boche.
But the battle for
drivers' hearts and minds
was about to move onto
the home front.
As the Germans prepared to
launch their invasion of Britain,
they had a new weapon
up their sleeve -
The Volkswagen Golf.
It was a hatchback, which was still
something of a novelty at the time,
so it was far more practical -
a Mini did not have
a hatchback at all.
It was a very clever move
by Volkswagen as well
because it had
Volkswagen engineering
but it had Italian style.
The bodywork was designed
by a company called Italdesign -
a very well-known designer
called Giugiaro.
It was just a stunning sort of
angular and very efficient
and practical car.
The Golf - in every test,
one of the best.
British drivers didn't get their
hands on the Golf until 1974.
But in its way, it was
an enormously symbolic moment.
Remember, we'd only
joined the Common Market,
what became the European Union,
a year earlier.
But we were becoming a much more
self-consciously European country.
We went on Spanish holidays.
We drank French wine,
we ate Italian food.
And now, more and more of us
were driving German cars.
The ugly whine of foreign engines
rent the peaceful autumn air
of the English countryside.
All ready, one traitor in eight
has traded with the enemy.
Are you one?
Have you bought foreign?
What about you, sir, could I ask
why you're driving a foreign car?
Well, this particular model is
because I find it very reliable...
good performance and...
I've had it for three years now and
I had no trouble whatsoever with it.
You've had some bad experiences
with British cars?
Yeah, Ford - the bottom dropped out with
rust after about nine months or something.
Have you tried British cars?
Yes, I had a Jag before that,
and Fords before that
and it was the usual trip down
to the garage every fortnight.
It really did hit home when my
brother came home with an Audi...
That was quite a shocking thing cos
he had owned British cars forever
and then he bought an Audi but it
was an astoundingly different car.
Leading the blitzkrieg,
was Volkswagen's hatchback.
VW sold 800 Golfs in the first year
and 20,000 in the second.
To British motorists,
its reliability seemed
simply extraordinary.
Even today, if you don't
own a Golf yourself,
there's bound to be one
in a drive near you.
He's off in that new car again.
Hmm. Wouldn't catch me
in a Volkswagen.
What's wrong with a Golf?
Well, it's not exactly big, is it?
Actually, it's bigger than it looks.
He'll never get that lot in there.
Anyway, I don't like
rear-engine cars.
The engine's in the front -
it's water-cooled.
The back seats fold down too.
What was it that the Golf did
that British cars didn't?
It worked, for a start.
It was a very, very practical car,
so I think people could see it
as a car that they could use, we
could get working with straight away.
Lift up the back, put our
shopping in, fold the seat down.
For most British buyers
that was great,
but it also helped that it was
a Volkswagen, so that means
that it's related to the Beetle
and that was the beginning
of our love affair
with cars which weren't British
which did work.
MUSIC: "Mama Weer All Crazee Now"
by Slade
1974, the year
the Golf was launched,
was a great year to be German.
On the football field, they won
the World Cup at home in Munich.
We didn't even qualify.
# I said, "Mama, but we're
all crazy now... " #
And while Slade's lurid costumes
were getting rather old hat,
the German synth-pop band Kraftwerk
were reaching for the future,
with their breakthrough
album Autobahn.
MUSIC: "Autobahn"
by Kraftwerk
Nothing better captured
modern Germany's infatuation
with the machine -
their love affair with "das Auto".
Britain's motorway system
was only 16 years old.
But the autobahns -
mostly free from speed limits -
dated back to the '30s.
Here was the supreme symbol
of Germany's commitment
to power, speed,
and modernity itself.
The autobahn was just such
a symbol of the German character,
in that it looks utterly rational
and they're magnificently
engineered, wonderful roads...
But they look rational
but they're also vaguely
mysterious and romantic,
It's not just transport, it's...
It's, you know, it's philosophy
and religion as well.
For many people in Britain -
especially those who
remembered the war -
the Germans' new-found success
was deeply disturbing.
You know how me dad feels
about the Germans -
won't even accept a lift
in our Audrey's Volkswagen.
So what was the secret
of the Germans' success?
How did they do it? It wasn't
just about the design and branding.
There was something deeper -
something that goes to
the very heart of the story
about why British
manufacturing declined,
whereas our German competitors
went from strength to strength
and are still going strong today.
Ever since the '50s,
German firms have been renowned
for their excellent labour relations
and tremendous productivity.
Even today, they make extraordinary
allowances for their workers,
as the top union negotiator
Stephan Wolf explains -
very quickly.
TRANSLATION: We have come to
a clear agreement with the company
that employees can switch off their
smartphones after working hours,
so they can enjoy their spare time.
This initially was
a contentious issue
between the company
and the work councils,
but we managed to push
our opinion through,
as the company profits from employees
who are able to relax
and recover after work.
So if you work for Volkswagen,
you clock off,
and after 6:15, there's
no danger of getting a call,
an e-mail, or even
a text from the office,
until just before
your shift the next day.
Somehow, I can't imagine
many British businesses
agreeing to that one.
In all major German companies,
the workers representative
is provided with the staff car
and an executive office.
And despite the management
trappings of his office,
he's very much a union man.
German law has long required
that every firm has
its own works council.
And that, instead of
fighting the management,
they work together,
in a spirit of mutual trust.
They even hold board meetings
with VW's management,
discussing the future
of the company.
Again, hard to imagine many
British firms signing up to that.
MUSIC: "Rock On"
by T-Rex.
Now this is the key
to the difference
between the Germans and us.
And it's all a question of class.
Post-war Britain was a society
drenched in class consciousness
all the way from the factory floor
to the wood-panelled boardroom
and the men who led our car unions
saw themselves as class warriors,
standing up to the bosses
on behalf of the workers.
But their German counterparts
were very different,
they saw themselves as partners,
working with the management,
and responsible, not just to their
members, but to the national good.
We wants deeds not words, you see,
otherwise we're coming out.
I will not yield to threats
by politically-motivated scum.
Ah! I don't think my members
would appreciate that, nomenclature!
Well, that's what they are,
isn't it? Marxist scum.
Oh, yeah. Reds under the handbags -
I'll flush 'em out!
Right, we're all coming out then.
You're all sacked.
Right, you bastard!
Inside Britain's
troubled car factories,
there wasn't much talk
of the national good.
In 1968, our remaining
car-makers had been merged
into one gigantic company...
British Leyland.
With 48 factories
and 190,000 workers,
this would be our secret weapon
to fend off the foreign invaders.
Instead of having the scattering
of Rover agents, Triumph agents,
BMC agents,
Leyland agents and so on,
we'll be able to provide
a tight, compact organisation,
which will enable you to
get parts, service and sales
anywhere throughout the world.
MUSIC: "I Saw The Light"
by Todd Rundgren
Right from the start,
BL ran into trouble.
Almost every week saw more strikes,
led by a new generation
of union militants.
Immediately the decision for action
is endorsed by the membership.
All of those in favour, please show.
ALL: Yeah!
We'd have preferred
not to have gone on strike.
We had no alternative.
NEWSREADER: In the Midlands,
the motor industry is,
of course, the big employer.
But recently, well, it's been
going through a pretty bleak time.
Last month, for the first time ever,
foreign car-makers grabbed
half the British market.
Of course, there were strikes
in German car plants too.
But you could count them
on the fingers on one hand
and still hitch a lift
home in a new Golf.
It's easy to blame Leyland's woes
on a handful of union extremists.
But Britain's car workers
didn't just want more money...
they often wanted more
professional respect.
The problem that we've had
in the country for so many years
is that being an engineer
or being a mechanic
is not a respected profession,
it's seen as somebody who bashes
a hammer against a piece of metal -
it's not credited with
any skill at all and not regarded.
Whereas, in other countries,
and Germany in particular,
you will find they're all
professors and doctors
and they are so highly qualified.
While Britain's car workers,
sick of their primitive conditions,
were fighting the class war,
Germany's factories were
being radically modernised.
David Buckle worked
on the steel press line
in the Cowley plant in the mid-'70s.
On behalf of his union,
he went on a fact-finding mission
to VW's Wolfsburg plant in 1977.
And what he saw there blew his mind.
Unlike here, where we worked
on individual cars,
they had a huge round table
and there was a car door
on each point of the crucifix...
that was one set of car doors.
While one operator
was working on one door,
robots were working on the other.
We hadn't had robots
in this factory,
we knew nothing about robots. Right.
Today, Cowley's Mini plant has
more than its fair share of robots.
Of course, we could have installed
robots earlier if we'd wanted.
The tragedy, though, was
that British Leyland shrank
from radical modernisation -
not least because they knew that
the unions would never stand for it.
Meanwhile, the Germans
were racing ahead.
Mercedes, for example, were already
working on cruise control,
airbags and anti-lock braking.
You could even buy
a bulletproof Mercedes 600.
British Leyland's cars
weren't even rustproof.
'This was our answer...
'the Austin Allegro.
'Unfortunately, the ads were
the best thing about them. '
# Allegro has vroom for five
# Allegro has vroom for five... #
By now, British Leyland had become
the embodiment of what the Germans
were calling "the British disease".
Every year, cars like this one,
the infamous Austin Allegro,
with it's square steering wheel
and Spanish Rose interior,
were making thumping losses.
Every week there were more strikes.
And what made
the Allegros failure so resonant
was that across much of British
industry it was the same story -
complacent management,
chaotic production,
militant workers,
and yet more strikes.
Indeed, if there's one statistic
that speaks volumes
of the difference between
Britain and Germany in the '70s,
it's this one.
In 1978, for every day
that German manufactures
lost to industrial action,
we lost ten!
commitment, we lack the discipline,
and we lack the interest in
being industrially competitive.
My honest feelings is
it's not in the English soul
to mass-produce motor cars.
Whereas the mass-produced
motor car is, I think,
the most complete expression
of the German psyche.
And while cars like the Mercedes 600
were testament to
Germany's new ambitions,
British cars were notorious for slow
delivery and shoddy workmanship.
Who can forget this wedge-shaped
beauty? The Austin Princess.
MUSIC: "Take The Long Way Home"
by Supertramp
That wedge shape that it has
was very much in vogue in the '70s.
It was THE car to have.
God, you're beautiful.
Oh, what finish, what style.
# Cos you're the joke
of the neighbourhood... #
What undermined it was,
I think there a strike
almost straight away
and then there were a couple of...
significant quality issues
that came about
because it hadn't been
sufficiently well engineered.
One was - and it
sounds rather dramatic,
and in a way it was -
the rear suspension...
would collapse.
New car, George? Certainly is.
Much room inside? Mustn't
grumble, you know - average.
Goes well, does it? Well... average.
'When British Leyland
launched the Princess in 1975,
'the slogan ran -
"not the car for Mr Average. "
'That was a shame. Because
the key to the Golf's appeal
'was that Mr Average
rather liked it. '
SONG: "The Floral Dance"
Desperate to save the company,
the government brought in a new
man to run British Leyland -
a ruthless South African
called Michael Edwardes.
INTERVIEWER: Did you hesitate
for some time about taking the job?
One of the decisions
I had to make was
whether the job was doable at all.
And I came to the conclusion
that somebody could do it.
And that maybe I could do it.
So, could Michael Edwardes
really turn British Leyland around?
These are newly-declassified
documents from the first months
of Margaret Thatcher's
new administration in 1979
and they give you a real sense
of the despondency at the top
about British Leyland's prospects.
Now, BL were asking for an extra 130
million from the taxpayer in 1980/81
just to keep going,
and this is a memo
from Thatcher's Cabinet Secretary,
Sir Robert Armstrong,
in which he says, "Every year
things get worse, instead of better.
"The productivity is atrocious.
"Their market share
has slumped from 33% in 1974
"to just 16% in the last two months.
"It begins to look as if
the illness is terminal. "
Now, if you think that's bad,
this one is from her Chief
Policy Advisor, Sir John Hoskins.
And he says British Leyland's
prospects are,
"nearly zero", but they have to give
British Leyland the money, he says,
because the public demands
support for Edwardes.
It's an intriguing sign of the
sheer importance of the car industry
in the public mind in the 1980s
that even Margaret Thatcher,
the arch privatiser,
shrank from cutting it
or closing it down,
because the car industry was seen an
indication of our national virility.
If the car industry went, we would
be impotent on the industrial stage.
But British Leyland
had one card left.
A car they'd been working
on for almost a decade -
modern, competitive, young, sexy...
and heavily subsidised
by the taxpayer.
The Mini Metro.
Launched in 1980-
"A British car to beat the world. "
Some of you may have noticed
that for the past few years
Britain has been invaded
by the Italians, the Germans,
the Japanese and the French.
Now we have the means to fight back.
SONG: "Rule Britannia"
The new Austin Metro.
A British car to beat the world.
MUSIC: "The Look Of Love"
by ABC
The Metro cost 3,000
and BL sold more than a million.
It became almost fashionable.
Even Prince Charles's fiancee,
Lady Diana Spencer, drove one.
But although the Metro was one of
the best-selling cars of the 1980s,
it was never going to be enough
to fend off the German competition.
My parents had a Mini Metro,
a lot of people did.
It was, on the surface,
it looks like quite
a successful car, but was it?
The sales figures predicted for it
were wildly optimistic.
They really did think they were
going to sell 300,000-400,000 a year
and it never came
anywhere near that.
I think they sold,
in the first year, 174,000.
The Metro was up against
the Volkswagen Polo
and it was up against
the Ford Fiesta,
so the Metro was, in a way,
an afterthought -
it was something
that came very late.
Now, Alan, you're going to have to
trade down your Rover 800
for a smaller car. Go on.
I picked up these brochures
for the new Metro.
It's... It's a lovely car.
Lynn... And if you do...
Lynn, I'm not driving a Mini Metro.
But you do have to make
substantial savings.
Lynn, I'm not driving a Mini Metro.
But if you do,
you can keep Pear Tree Productions
with a skeleton staff of two.
There's no point finishing the sentence,
because I'm not driving a Mini Metro.
MUSIC: "Don't You Want Me"
by The Human League
The truth is that the Mini Metro
never really stood a chance.
British Leyland had fallen into
the trap of fighting the last war,
not the current one.
Their adverts harked
back to the past,
when they should have
been looking forward.
And crucially, they never really
understood the importance
of an up-to-date brand.
It was in the 1980s that
we really began to define ourselves
by what we bought...
and what we drove.
This was the decade of Levis,
the Walkman, Nike and Armani.
The decade when ad men
sold us designer sunglasses
and a motor to match.
In Germany, one car-marker
more than any other,
realised that for people
making money in the 1980s,
and there were lots of them,
the priority was to look good.
And to look good, you needed
the right badge on your motor.
Now, you wanted your car
to have sex appeal
but you also wanted it
to be reliable.
It is, after all,
quite hard to look good
when you're standing
by the side of the road
waiting for the German
equivalent of the AA.
This is the Munich headquarters
of the Bavarian Motor Works - BMW.
It's their equivalent
of Volkswagen's Autostadt.
They call it "Die Welt" - the world.
An appropriate hub for
a company with global ambitions.
This is where young Bavarian
families come to worship
at the altar of the automobile.
And that's the point.
This is where BMW suck you in.
This is where they get you.
A gigantic tribute to
the allure of the brand.
All the German manufacturers,
they've built these cathedrals,
these temples to themselves.
It's somewhere between
a department store and a museum.
And a cathedral.
You go there to visit...
and to desire,
or you can go there to purchase.
It's again, it's another...
It's again, more emphasis
on seriousness.
I mean, buying a car in Germany
is not just a grubby transaction
which involves transferring money
from one account to another.
It's engaging in
an immensely serious,
culturally rich, and occasionally
rather beautiful and moving event.
MUSIC: "I Feel Love"
by Donna Summer
The car that really made BMW's name
was their iconic 3 Series.
It was slick, sporty and stylish.
Along with the German-made Porsche,
it was THE car of the '80s.
But the key to its appeal wasn't
the engineering - it was the idea.
When you bought a BMW,
you were buying into that archetypal
'80s concept - a lifestyle.
What does having a BMW mean to you?
Comfort. Status.
Yes, I suppose so, yes.
Status? Sounds awful, doesn't it?
So, it's status? I suppose
it does - status. Yes, success.
One of BMW's thrusting
young salesman put it this way,
The BMW, he said,
was not just a capitalist's car,
it was an entrepreneur's one -
a risk-taking, ambitious
individual's way of saying
that they were doing rather well.
A Saab, he said, was
a socialist dentist's car.
Volvos were for
dabblers in antiques.
A Mercedes belonged
to the company secretary.
An Audi suggested
that you didn't quite have
enough money for a Mercedes.
And a Rover was a cry for help.
In Margaret Thatcher's Britain,
the BMW badge
became a status symbol -
as one young salesman discovered.
Now, this is where
a dashing young salesman
called James Ruppert
enters the story.
Because you were a BMW salesman on
Park Lane, I think? That's right.
It really was when
the yuppie was born
and you would have people
coming from, from the city
and they would, sort of, make
a pilgrimage up to Park Lane
in their lunch hour or after hours
and drive a car and want to buy it.
I delivered more cars
to the centre of the city
than any other place.
I can remember that so... Almost
every day I'd be driving a car.
Early morning I'd pick it up,
drop it off
and another banker very happy
indeed - with his braces.
'But as the Welshman behind
BMW's marketing freely admits,
'a brand is all in the mind. '
In the premium segment,
we're clearly selling
an emotional product.
You know, it comes
with a strong brand,
but you know, what is a brand?
A brand is effectively
a promise, you know,
it's a promise of innovation.
It's a promise of
outstanding design.
it's a promise of
fantastic materials.
It's a promise of
technology on board.
It's a promise of safety.
Of course, it is still JUST a car.
But that's not what
BMW want you to think.
They're selling an idea,
an illusion that the right car
will make you happy.
But there is genuinely
good engineering beneath the hype.
And behind the wheel of a BMW, even
grumpy old men can get carried away.
Honestly, I haven't
driven anything...
this, sort of, perfect since...
I don't know, since the
original Golf GTI, in fact.
But the real story of the 1980s
wasn't just the triumph of
individual German car brands.
It was the rebranding
of Germany itself.
Thanks largely to
the success of its cars,
the land of sausages,
sauerkraut and lederhosen
was now becoming distinctly "cool".
Even the German language,
so often dismissed
as "guttural and ugly",
was now a potent weapon.
Every year, the Schmidts,
the Mullers and the Reinharts
drive to their holiday villas.
The Schmidts' car
is slow and rather noisy.
The Vorsprung Technik campaign
is one of the cleverest
advertising campaigns... ever.
The Mullers drive a big, thirsty car.
It allowed us to mock the Germans.
The Germans always have
tried to be first on the beach
and the Germans always...
You know, they're domineering,
bossy people.
The Reinharts drive an Audi 100.
But at the same time,
they quietly acknowledged
that Germany was also
a source of excellence.
And the moral of the story is...
if you want to get on
the beach before the Germans,
you'd better buy an Audi 100.
"Vorsprung durch Technik",
as they say in Germany.
British Leyland has announced
a loss of over 150 million
for the first half of the year -
more than the loss
for the whole of last year.
By now, British Leyland were dead.
The company had been split up
and sold off, and in 1994,
the last heir to British tradition
of mass car production,
the last company to make the Metro,
the Rover Group,
passed into the hands of...
Well, of all people, the Germans,
as part of BMW's expanding empire.
But you know the really
humiliating thing -
that not even the Germans
could turn Rover around.
It carried on losing money
and after just six years...
they got rid of it.
Of course, the fact that BMW
had bought Rover AT ALL
was enormously revealing.
For, by the 1990s, our factories
were becoming offshore outposts
of Germany's automotive empire.
Now, not even Britain's
greatest hero
could resist the allure
of a German motor.
Q: Right, now pay attention, 007.
First, your new car.
BMW - agile, five forward gears,
all-points radar.
Self-destruct system and naturally,
all the usual refinements.
And as the supreme symbol of
their continental ambitions,
the Germans were all too keen
to embrace Europe's
new single currency - the Euro.
With trade barriers down and their
neighbours borrowing and spending
as though there'd be no tomorrow,
Germany's manufacturers were
laughing all the way to the bank.
Of course, there'd be a sting
in the tail for the Spanish,
the Greeks, and all the rest -
a whopping great bill.
But by then, the only people
who could bail them out
were the Germans!
The Euro has been good
for the Germans.
They've never sold
so many Audis to Athens,
so many Mercedes to Madrid.
But as their ads suggest,
Germany's car-makers now have
genuinely global ambitions.
MAN: Hot!
Eight out of ten German cars
are actually sold outside Germany.
Now, not just to their traditional
customers in Europe and America -
which incidentally
have carried on growing -
but to some of the most dynamic,
developing countries in the world -
Brazil, Korea, India, Russia.
Last year, you know, they sold
half a million cars just in China.
Now here's the interesting thing.
What are some of
the most prestigious brands?
They're British Brands.
Take BMW, when they
got rid of Rover,
they did something very, very
clever - they kept hold of Mini
and in 2001 they relaunched
Mini to tremendous acclaim.
We took on Mini, which, in essence,
was a small car, you know -
great character.
Was over 40 years old
and had a history in the...
Effectively the growing up
of many, many people,
and not just in the UK,
all around the world.
But more importantly,
we turned it into a brand.
And now there are
seven members of a family,
but very, very clearly
under the brand of Mini.
In just 12 years,
BMW have sold over two million Minis
in more than 100 countries.
But the Germans
didn't stop with Mini.
BMW own Rolls-Royce, too.
Even Bentley, perhaps the most
prestigious of all British brands,
answers to Volkswagen's
steely commander-in-chief.
a good example of how
it's still possible in your country
to make beautiful cars
and sell them for a profit.
And the Crewe factory is an example
of how to fire up
your workers for a car.
I often go to Crewe,
where we make a beautiful car,
and the people there
have a real passion for cars.
They are very productive
and they make great cars,
with great quality leather,
really nicely designed.
And that's a good lesson
for Great Britain
in how to save
British industrial jobs.
You could hardly want
a more dispiriting symbol
of how things have changed,
than a German chief executive
patting Britain's car workers
on the head.
We've all come a long way
since the days of Ivan Hirst.
What Crewe and Cowley
and the other surviving
British car plants prove
is that there was never anything
inherently wrong with our workers.
We always had the skills.
What we didn't have, though, was the
right management, the right unions,
the right branding,
or the right instincts.
And in the end, we paid the price.
Of course, there is a bright side.
We do still make one and a half
million cars a year,
most of them for export.
And thanks not least to the Germans,
thousands of people
do still have jobs
in Britain's remaining
car factories.
But there's no escaping the fact
that we are making cars
for our old rivals -
the profits lining the pockets
of Germany's economic titans.
What an irony.
Once our car industry was one
of the Germans' chief competitors,
now, it's one of
their biggest assets,
an essential prop of
Germany's new economic empire.
But, you know,
I rather admire them for it.
They were down on the knees
and they worked their way back.
For more than 50 years,
they got things right and we didn't.
And now, from their car showrooms
to their national finances,
the Germans are
the envy of the world.
And that is why, like so many
of the cars on Britain's roads,
Europe's 21st century may well
end up being made in Germany.
Still, at least one driver's
back in a British-made car.
We're changing vehicles.
MUSIC: "James Bond Theme"
by Monty Newman and John Barry
And if you can't quite run to a
vintage Aston Martin, don't worry,
there's always the Golf.