Where to build what?


News that Land Rover is considering building the new Defender in India has already been greeted with some fairly predictable howls of outrage from those thinking that a Defender not built in Solihull is barely worthy of the name and clearly unaware the car has already been built in the Far East, Middle East, Africa and Europe.

But it’s an interesting point: does the location of a car factory actually matter?

To some it clearly does. A decade ago BMW spent some hundreds of millions building a final assembly plant for its newly-acquired Rolls-Royce brand because it was felt ‘Built in Munich’ was perhaps not the best tag to hang on the car when relaunching the marque from new. Likewise Volkswagen chose to rebuild entirely the ageing and underinvested Bentley factory in Crewe in preference to the far cheaper and easier solution of transferring production to Dresden where the Continental’s quite close cousin, the VW Phaeton, was in production.

Others have been far less squeamish. I wonder, for instance, how many Porsche Boxster drivers realise it is overwhelmingly likely that their car was built not by Porsche in Stuttgart, but a company called Valmet in Finland? When Aston Martin ran out of capacity at Gaydon, it had no qualms about getting Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria to build the Rapide which is, incidentally, the best built Aston I’ve ever driven. It’s V12 engines have always been built in a German Ford factory.

So what? Clearly it is essential for a car company to have an identity, and it helps for that identity to be linked to a nationality, but that doesn’t mean it needs to lose a competitive advantage by insisting everything it does has to happen in that country or not at all. Volkswagen understands this very well: no car company has exploited the potential of platform sharing better, which is why under the skin certain Audis, Skodas, Seats and VWs are structurally identical. But Skoda’s head office remains in the Czech Republic, Seat in Spain and VW and Audi inconveniently far apart in Germany. Don’t expect Porsche to leave Stuttgart any time soon, any more than Lamborghini will quit Sant Agata or Bugatti leave Molsheim.

For me it is all about credibility. Car companies can build what they like and where they like so long as the customer believes the product to be the genuine article.

It goes wrong when manufacturers start playing badge roulette and hoping the customer either won’t notice or doesn’t care. This is what makes me fearful of Fiat’s strategy for Lancia and Chrysler, which is to badge Lancias as Chryslers to sell where Chrysler has a presence and vice versa. But is calling a Lancia Delta a Chrysler Delta really going to increase it’s chance of sale in the UK? Are the Italians going to be duped into thinking a Chrysler 300C is really a Lancia because it wears a blue shield? I think not.

Otherwise it doesn’t matter. Ferrari can build cars in Germany, Australia, Patagonia or on the moon for all I care: so long as they’re designed in Maranello by people who work for Ferrari, Ferraris they will stay.


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