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How Coventry Becomes a Motor City

How Coventry Becomes a Motor City

How Coventry Becomes a Motor City

Britain was a major player in the industrial revolution, and the heritage of that time remains. Many cities and towns industrialised itself to be proficient at producing one thing. Coventry was a car manufacturing city, similar to Detroit, and it was aptly named “the Detroit of Britain”. Although that era has long passed, and the city’s economy has been suffering ever since a rebuilding effort is still being put forth to push the city back to its former glory.

From the cotton mill to The Motor Mill

In 1885, the German engineer Karl Benz completed his design of the first truly practical automobile, and from that point on, the world was never the same. Most of Britain was fond of the conservatism that had been the staple of the British people for hundreds of years, and they were reluctant to let go of the ideology. However, as Germany grew due to their progress-oriented consensus and their engineering ingenuity, it was trumping the entirety of Europe, and Britain had to put up a fight to stay in the competition. This is where Coventry as a city came into the picture.

Before it became Britain’s main hub of car manufacturing, Coventry was already an established industry city, but for sewing machines, textile, watch and bicycle-making. This means that the people of Coventry were already accustomed to the factory lives. When the Daimler Motor Company founded by Henry Lawson, established its first car factory in Coventry, it kick-started the industrialisation of the city. Lawson bought the Motor Mills patent from F.R. Simms, and it was proven to be one of the best decisions in the history of the motor industry. Unfortunately for him though, his career would end in ignominy as he was found guilty of conspiring to defraud and was sentenced to one year’s hard labour. This ended any major involvement of his in the motor industry but while it may have been the end for Lawson, this was just the beginning for Coventry.

The British Detroit

Pioneers can easily find themselves falling behind the competition with a more discerning eye and better financial support, a phenomenon known as the second mover’s advantage, but Coventry had no such premonitions. As Henry Ford perfected mass production with the moving assembly line, the large motor companies that now define the industry could begin to establish themselves. During the 1930s, car ownership doubled to two million much to Coventry’s benefit.

Although Lawson had already gone under, the company and the motor mills were still in operation. Following the success of Henry Ford’s conveyor belt assembly method, many of his competitors aimed to replicate his system. Coventry became known as the British Detroit, attracting the attention of industry giants including Jaguar, Chrysler, Rover and Humber.

When WWII was at its fiercest, Coventry was an unfortunate victim of war. Due to its economic importance to Britain as an automobile hub and manufacturing powerhouse, the city became a prime target for bombing. The Luftwaffe constantly and thoroughly bombarded the city to ensure that the factories were destroyed. However, the city came back stronger than ever after the end of the war. Britain was able to retain the driving seat in the second-largest car manufacturing country of the world. An influx of workers immediately followed the war, driving the boom years of Coventry car manufacturing. By 1950, there were 12 manufacturers in Coventry and the UK became the leading car exporter between 1962-64. This boom in business was a benefit to the worker that earned a 24% higher average wage when compared to the rest of British industrial workers.

Despite its success, the city was not immune to failing, just like Detroit. Even though it seems that a city on such a glorious rise as Coventry could never fall, but that was exactly what happened. Many issues started to rise, from the absorption of major companies to the move of manufacturing bases, the city suffered subsequent blunders after the other. Worker unions started to demand significant pay raises and workers benefits, the major companies started to lose profits. Combine this with the fact that Japanese brands like Honda and Toyota started to dominate the market, and the quality of British cars started to see a drop, it was a formula for disaster for the British motor industry.

Consequently, over half of the workers of Coventry’s top 15 automobile manufacturers had been axed by 1982 at a rate of 520 (high paying) jobs per month. The fate of the city seemed sealed as the last of the major companies closed up shop; Jaguar moved production from the Browns Lane plant in 2004 and Peugeot demolished its last Coventry-based plant in 2006.

A rising phoenix

Although the city has suffered much, from war to economic crises, the people of this city haven’t given up the hope to restore Coventry to its former glory. With the joint effort of Warwick Coventry Universities and the city’s community, the dream of bringing the city back to its glory days is looking more achievable by the day. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) funded the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), a motor research and development group that aims to bring the interests of the manufacturer back to Coventry. Additionally, Coventry University has recently opened the National Transport Design Centre which is described as an interdisciplinary centre of collaboration, using eclecticism to fuel new car design.

Jaguar remains one of the most successful British car company to date, and it still believes in Coventry. There were over 500,000 cars produced in Coventry in 2015, which is a sign of good things to come. The company has a plan to expand in both its current HQ in Whitley, Coventry, a new workplace named ‘Gateway North’ and most significantly for a new factory for mass production. Not only that, but there has also been a strong emphasis on research for automotive AI, green energy and eco-friendly car designs. The RDM Group have been working on autonomous cars pods and software for self-parking cars. The new TX5 electric cabs (which you may have seen in London this year) are being manufactured by the reborn London Taxi Company in Coventry. A new start-up company called Microcab are working on cars powered by environmentally-friendly hydrogen fuel cells, in conjunction with Coventry University in their aforementioned National Transport Design Centre.

Coventry is a city which holds much historical and economic importance to Britain. Even though it has been through tough times, it’s a heartwarming sight to see that the people of this city haven’t given up hope to return the city to its former glory. It’s only fitting that the Coventry coat of arms depicts a phoenix rising from the flames as the city looks to rebuild its renowned motor industry.

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