Friday, 22 July 2016

Macro-Level Trends – Beyond “Brexit” - Looking Back to Look Forward...A Paradoxical “Merci, Monseuir Hulot” (Part 2)

The aftermath of 'Brexit' continues, the UK with a new Prime Minister, Chancellor, Home Secretary and a generally altered Cabinet structure and personnel.

However, contrarian to the voting British public's distaste for the EU – with central issues of immigration, the Brussel's 'gravy train' and a supposedly looming federal super-state – the second part of this weblog intentionally looks back across The Channel (or 'La Manche') and back in time to the year of 1971 and the mannerisms of a cult European character.

1971 was the year when UK decimalisation was introduced, designed to align the Pound to the French Franc, German Deutschemark, Italian Lira etc, and more easily calculate exchange rates to promote European commerce and leisure travel. 

The previous decade had prompted innovative outcomes from Wilson's 'White Heat of Technology' speech, ranging from the shift to (the then) 'clean diesel' and cleaner still diesel-electric hybrid locomotives on the state railways, the continuation of the Modernists' dream in public housing, and new era downsized cars - even in the luxury segment, such as the Jaguar XJ and Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow; which also sold well in Europe.

Prior to the UK's joining the EEC, Prime Minister Edward Heath stated...

...”It is going to be a gradual development...but from the point of view of our everyday lives we will find there is a great cross-fertilisation of knowledge and information, not only in business but every other sphere”.

Britain had been denied EEC membership in both 1963 and 1967 because of the French disbelief regards British commitment. But that friction had been overcome with Anglo-French joint ventures such as the breath-taking supersonic Concorde by BCA (later BAe) and Aerospatiale in 1969 for the respective national carriers of BOAC (later British Airways) and Air France.

Similarly given the enthusiasm for cross-continental relations talks were again re-initiated regards reviving the old 19th century idea of a Cross-Channel Tunnel; which after enormous effort finally materialised in 1994. This achievement providing the new foundations for for various later joint projects, culminating in the astonishing Millau Bridge between constructor Eiffage and Foster Associates architects in 2004.

With emotional unification of the world in mid-1969 thanks to the first Moon Landing, the early 1970s promised greater pan-European unification ideals via the expansion of the Common Market so aligning national interests and destinies.

As Britain experienced a weakened economic grasp upon its former colonies because of  each's national independence movement, so it remoulded itself to operate within the European sphere. That argument used today by the 'Brexiteers' highlighting the proven and future economic potential of the emergent world – the BRICs, CIVETS, MINTS regions etc.

Yet 'Brexit' obviously adds yet more resistance to the already previously harsh headwinds facing the UK, with political confusion and as yet unproven change creating a general short/medium term loss of confidence, and the knock-on effect, as seen with international downgrades from the ratings agencies and renewed spasms within what should by now have been well-stabalised capital markets and western economies.

Better Balancing Britain's Interests -

Of course the world is economically a very different place to the western-centricism of the early 1970s, new giants have indeed emerged moving through the national development time-frame in a matter of decades not centuries, as was the case with Europe.

But if the Middle-East was the birth of civilisation, then Europe was undoubtedly its cradle and créche, from the Roman Empire onward an improving merging of cultures, commerce and technical progress.

The Brexit vote was an undoubted shock to European leaders and many Europeans themselves who have seemingly always seen the British Isles as (physically and metaphysically) close enough for support, but not too close for comfort; and being in that idiosyncratic position perhaps able to best balance its own national identity and that of a European partner; and as such perhaps a leading light of 'collective individualism'.

This important and very enabling position should not be underestimated nor threatened by an angry reactionary British public. Never has the horrible phrase “kick a dog and see it bite another dog” been so apt, referring to the far too sensationalised issue of migration. Yet that has been the outcome whereby marginalised people don't look to the failed socio-economic responsibilities of their past leaders, but to blaming the 'under-dogs' who themselves only sought better lives elsewhere.

Where bridges have been burned and trenches dug, the very opposite is required.

The reconfigured distancing sought by the dissaffected masses, should only be created if deemed truly appropriate by those unbiased experts whose knowledge itself en mass about the plethora of issues involved, can be stitched together for the optimal perception of the situation.

Thus not reliant upon the supposed 'wisdom of crowds', which itself is largely fed via the media.

The critical need today is not to alienate Britain from Europe, but to extricate itself from the any truly prohibiting regulation and maximise commercial and cultural relationships.

[NB this said, as the creche of civilisation, the EU's strong protective stance regards Human Rights should remain].

Thus Britain must not wholly nail the Union Flag to the mast of the Emerging Nations' - no matter how apparently promising - but prosaically and sensitively balance its European Interests with its Global Interests. 

The old foreign policy phrase used by Britain was that " we have no friends, simply interests" has never so apt, from many perspectives.

Looking Back to Monsieur Hulot -

It is precisely because of the created tumult that greater understanding, foresight, humility, diplomacy and creativity is needed. A very different and far more substantive real-politik that properly handles such issues, as opposed to the media-compelled 'sound-bite' personas so rife today; from celebrities to politicians and into much of the general populace.

Whilst the new Prime Minister Theresa May might be initially seeking overt populism by highlighting the sought role of employee representation of company boards to mimic German practice - a double-edged sword depending upon the commercial acumen of such representation - she does at least appear to have the qualities of caution, sobriety and tenacity.

These qualities might seem "dull" with the media's quick comparison as a female John Major, but she at least appears more dynamic and is PR savvy. To this end, the power of both British and European cultures should be deployed to create a convincingly constructed stepping-stone pathway for Britain's optimal future.

The same approach needed today as was seen in the run-up to Britain's 1973 EEC entry, with the ability to merge the best elements of imbued cultures.

The prescient 'decimalisation' year of 1971 saw the last populist artwork of the quirky film-maker Jacques Tati. And the last venture of his socially observant, cross-zeitgeist straddling, character Monsieur Hulot, within the subtle comedy 'Trafic'.

Monseuir Hulot came to prominance through the previous films: 'Les Vacances' ('53), 'Mon Oncle' ('59) and 'Play Time' ('67), within Tati's highly pictorially structured pictorial (and periodically audiby assisted) story-telling process. With for the most part no or very sparse dialogue, he sought to reflect the rapidly changing era as France embraced the American-centric future through Hulot's eyes.

The prevailing French demi-high-brow polemic was deployed, itself the driving force of America's counter-culture 'beatnik' movement, which sought to question unquenched consumerism and materialism, (as encapsulated by Jacque Karouac's 'On the Road'). Silent action and mime was used as its central visual motif – wherein the very visual and behavioural actions of characters and the use of inanimate objects speaking louder than words. All to represent his own distaste for increasing Americana and Hollywood's exportation of overtly formulaic low-brow cultural popularism.

The foundational aspect of his film-making was a need to reclaim an increasingly marginalised 'La Belle France'; done so via the trickle-down of ideas from 'Rive Gauche' philosopher set - Hulot himself demonstrating aspects of the 'Flaneur'.

(NB Hollywood's soft-power play for Europe - seen with Dutch-born Audrey Hepburn in both 'Roman Holiday' ('53) and 'Funny Face' ('57) - sought to strengthen the Euro-Anglo-American relationship).

Thus 1953 saw the introduction of Hulot (after Fete de Jour in 1949) via release of a low-budget, idiosyncratic and parochially French 'Les Vacances' depicting the minutiae of life including exploration of common-folk's petit-borgeois distain of Hulot the awkward 'social misfit' who nonetheless sees more and so experiences more.

He prefers the oft over-looked beauty of nature (vs the starkly geometric man-made), the antiquated environs of the cobbled old-town (vs steel, glass and concrete), the innocence of children (vs the socialised madness of adults), the true 'humanity' of dogs (vs societal hypocracy), the warmth of bird-song (even when caged)...and an appreciation for design simplicity and 'fitness for purpose: as exemplified by his unglamorous and so unfashionable yet wholly perfected VeloSolex motorised bicycle.

In essence this seemingly 'out of time' quiet man has the eye of an artist, the mind if an engineer and the consciousness of a yogi, insightful and far beyond the 'BS'.

Importantly, unlike the initial three films in which he merely observes other people's consumer slavishness, in 'Trafic' Hulot puts his observational capabilities to good use as an active participant in commercial creativity. As design head for the fictional Altra (Car) Company and creator of a very functional (though intentionally comically over-stylised) 'Camping Car'.

Throughout the next three films the seemingly austere and rational Monsiuer Hulot – though more deeply human under the surface - would himself philosophically 'shine a light' upon what he saw as the ridiculous extremes of the new, fashionable, and supposedly more convenient status based consumerism.

From the folly of domestic architecture wherein modernism meets modern art to create not a home but a highly inconvenient show-piece, to the increasing dominance of dehumanised organisational environments, with a tendency of aspirational humans to willingly self-mould to the corporate machine image; this tendency wholly unfathomable to Hulot given his innate naturalness.

Jacques Tati depicted the character as essentially out of place, somewhat austere, old-fashioned, quiet, logical, sombre, simple and yet a questioning and active man, his mind always elsewhere on higher things, and so never 'in the moment' or with 'the crowd'.

Counter to today's fashion of 'inter-connected this' and 'democratic that' created by social-media, it is these aforementioned qualities that are required more than ever today by the political, investment and industrial leaders of Britain. In a period when commerce, industry and politics has effectively had to start-over under ongoing extremely challenging circumstances.

Honest, intelligent, fresh and creative approaches are needed within the political-socio-economic sphere, the very opposite of populist-driven sound-bite 'ism' trendiness. 'Isms' which essentially put rhetoric before intent and action and so lack substance. 

Neither should there be a reliance upon the strictly conventional originating from yesteryear, often probably out-dated in outlook and notional solutions.

[NB Even of late, the British loss of Cambridge based ARM Holdings (and its IPR value) to Japan's Softbank illustrates the continued hollowing-out of vital industries. Though an expected given, this not always recouped by yesteryear 's often failed 
regeneration chatter; as with Lord Heseltine's recent words about automatic reversion to a 1980s FDI scenario. Softbank may well create an 'internet of things' manufacturing base in the NE, NW, Midlands or South Wales... or it might choose to do so in Japan, China, Indonesia or in time Bangladesh.].

As seen, Hulot is someone of a different older 'no-nonsense' age; not enthralled at the demonstrations of pseudo-technical advancement in the home, office or factory; or indeed by the consumerism-binge exemplified by the big, flash cars (vis a vis the humble domestic) 2CV. 

These but over-marketed products functionally no or little better than their predecessors.

[NB herein the future internet of things must be truly functionally transformative, not simply app-based e-layered fuctionalist artifice...AI and robotics the critical next step to this metamorphosis. The AI controlled industrial or domestic robot is designed to be wholly multi-functional, necessary given its prime purpose of command and environment related response and adaptiveness].

Similarly, in the era when luxury French cars had been effectively eliminated through government intervention policy (affecting Facel Vega etc), the masses had been mobilised with Citroen 2CV, 4CV, Traction Avant (as taxis) and goods transported via H-Vans and Estafettes, Hulot the designer was not impressed by the new middle-classes' fascination for Detroit size and colour, but by the idiom of broadened functionalism befitting the economic realities of the time – hence the dual-use affordable 'Camping-Car'.

So whereas Detroit's mid-century baroque exports befitted the taste of the nouveau-riche (effectively replacing those lost domestic grande tourers), Hulot looked to the cultural opposite - to the people. 

Although not of the crowd he understood how the life and the engrained French ways of people could be experentially enrichened with the appropriate multi-functional vehicle.

At a time when France was scrabbling to move beyond the automotive products of basic post-war entry-level mobility,  the people far from wealthy enough to purchase the architypical Euro-Americana cars provided by the likes of Opel or Ford (larger, colourful and feature-laden) Hulot sought to re-imagine French Utilitarianism and maintain the connection to nature and the land.

[NB the 'Camping-Car' vehicle itself based upon the Renault 4 van, itself probably chosen by Tati because of the cognitive connections between his former film 'Les Vacances' and the fact that at the time Renault had a fleet of 'Vacances Service' R4 'breakdown vans' dedicated to the summer exodus of holiday-makers heading to Western and Southern coast-lines.

Thus Tati pre-empted, and indeed promoted, the auto-camping trend of the increasingly mass-mobilised 1970s Euro-camping era].

'Trafic' is itself seemingly a prompt to French industry and capitalism soon after the social upheaval of the 1968 student riots and the threatened resurgence of re-popularised communism. As France itself looks to undertake its own EEC export-drive, Monsieur Hulot designs what he considers the perfect Camping-Car with French and pan-European potential.

Thus the film  conveys the story from product's conception upon the drafting-board, its birth in the 'prototype shed', its photographic marketing, loading upon a factory truck and transportation to the Amsterdam auto-show for the public reveal.

Hulot and the factory-men set out with their precious cargo, having to follow the firm's speedy 'PR girl' in her little open-topped Fiat Gamine. Her pace setting across the border alert the officials and so all become embroiled with 'La Douane' – the Belgian-Dutch 'Customs and Excise' officials.

In essence a parody of the thrust of international commerce stymied by international officialdom.

Herein we witness how frustration builds between the 'go go go' mentality of the somewhat demanding PR representative and the methodical, rule-book mentality of the officials, so creating a tense atmosphere, and so probably creating more problems and barriers for the journeying group.

By way of calming the waters Monsieur Hulot instead accords to the requirements of the officials and critically gains their fascination and trust by demonstrating the surprise and delight functional properties of his Camping-Car creation.

Where the demands of youth and hastiness only adds to the processing time of EEC regulation, it is maturity and co-operation which ensures smooth transmission.

The vehicle eventually arrives at the the Amsterdam “AutoRAI”, the exhibition providing for fertile ground for more of Hulot's inquisitiveness and the resulting comedic outcomes.

The Mindful Lessons Learned -

The central aspect here of course, relevant to the UK's effort to 'Brexit', is the manner in which it should be done.

The populist anger behind the vote to leave obviously resultant from the relative economic stagnation of Britain since 2007, blaming immigrants and the EU when in fact it was a combination of a non-existant national industrial and services economic strategy since the early 2000s, itself substituted by an empirically disconnected and so overtly in-credible credit regime; itself the function of 'made-up money' from Wall Street's financial re-engineering(CDS / CDO etc).

Theresa May and her Cabinet have a mandate to follow the will of the public, seemingly even if wholly misguided.

Thus the process of EU extraction is ironically thankfully a long and ponderous one, even after ratification of Article 50. This 4-5 year time-frame provides enough time to allow the member states of Europe to not 'do likewise', but to use 'Brexit' to reconsider exactly how to reform the EU.

The core elements being akin to;
1. Rationality driving regulation.
(not vice versa whereby the 'gravy boat' is sustained through ever greater regulation of petty issues)
2. A concomitant reduction of Brussels' operating costs, thus lowering all members' contributions.
3. Greater transparancy to the EU public
(an EU Parliament digital TV channel created to broadcast web-based EUParlTV content).
4. Greater efforts toward national and sub-regional histories and identities
(recognised as within national boundaries, and not premised as 'spin-out' independent new entities, then able to then illustrate the history and idiosyncratic identities within singular nations; so promoting interest, travel and commercialism with greater relationship building between similar international regions).

In a useful manner, Tati's film 'Trafic' humorously illustrates Monsieur Hulot's frustration with the limitations of the then conventional 'pre-set' private car. The journey to Amsterdam illustrating how people had become effectively emotionally attached slaves to the car, Tati using the behavioural pattern of windscreen wipers to convey the personality of the driver.

To provide the necessary potential for personal freedoms Hulot devises a model that could both undertake the standard needs of the everyday and provide a mechanism for enlightening escape.

The task in hand over the coming years for EU leaders is to mimic Hulot's reconsidered and much adapted model.

Britain's Mr Bean has itself been a prime cultural export internationally – especially the 'slap-stick' loving nations of Germany and Japan – in large part drawn from Hulot. And as seen in the Mr Bean films, although silent and unobtrusive he is seen to be the power 'behind the scenes' of eventual outcomes.

The time of the overtly vocal, rousing, populist leader (Farage to Varoufakis) should be seen as over.

Looking forward all member states of the EU require the Hulot character, sensitivity and an understanding of how to appreciate and remould the big socio-economic picture.

Back to the drawing board” to achieve economically and culturally “the model of mutual prosperity”.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Macro-Level Trends – Beyond “Brexit” - Looking Back to Look Forward...A Paradoxical “Merci, Monsieur Hulot” (Part 1)

The Americans, Japanese and British have always been aghast at, and very envious about, lengthy European vacation times. France's entire August Summer “shut-down” long centre of its engrained attitude, yet previously seen as endemic to Europe's post-WW2 economic lag behind the overt 'Thrusting 3' nations.

Re-Balancing to the 'New Norm' -

Today, as the west endures the slow-growth 'new normal', deflation and limited personal income growth because of the ongoing reality of squeezed and cash-cautious firms, the very idea of a period of summer shut-down' within the once 'Thrusting 3' and so right across the Triad regions might itself pose not a problem, but a solution to present socio-economic woes.

Such a possibility part-answer to the re-balancing of both intrinsically aggrieved social troubles, created from financial stress and distress, and as importantly, a route to reduce cost pressures on corporate overhead expenditure.

But unlike cosseting European regulation – France itself now going through much resisted labour reforms - the concept is that of part-paid or even unpaid time-off during the 'shut-down'. The aim to better equate to the cold reality of a firm's true level of demand vs its costs of supply; and so better able to manage the marginal costs of its productivity – whether in goods production or services provision.

The always efficient German's and the automotive sector have set the example here in the UK some time ago, notably when BMW bought the Mini brand and invested heavily in the Oxford plant. The business case to do so was founded upon the need for far greater staff hours flexibility that would match the varying customer demand for its cars over the course of the year. Staff hours annually 'banked' so as to modulate labour availability relative to more efficient production rates.

'Brexit': a Basis for Re-Orientation -

That European-wide social anger has obviously been most recently illustrated by Britain's 'Referendum on Europe'...'Brexit'. Of those that voted the British population decided to extricate itself from the apparent shackles of EU regulations and their seemingly negative consequences.

[NB Although it was obvious that the 'leave' voters themselves were themselves primed for many years beforehand by the deluge of anti-immigration stories, so creating 'red-top' fuelled reactionary popularism.

It is also paradoxically noted that whilst Brits themselves drive some cars made in the UK (BMW Mini, Nissan Qashqai, Honda Civic) the majority of new cars bought are imported from Europe; whilst the “nation's favourite” comedian Peter Kay is depicted driving a FIAT 500L].

Now 100 years on from the trench warfare of the Somme, Britain could be said to stand in a 'no man's land' of its own doing, leading European politicians highlighting the apparent lack of a credible future-forward plan ex-EU.

This now being partly ideologically addressed via new party leadership manifestos.

The Brexit vote and its aftermath caused hedge-funds to profusely bleed, the capital markets to convulse, the GBP dramatically weaken to a 30 year low, the BoE to highlight possible recession (though with policy in hand) and the UK Treasury to state that national debt reduction targets inevitably post-poned because of the renewed bout of uncertainty and lost business confidence.

Hence it is no wonder that the very notion of a tenable alternative UK economic export model - with renegotiated EU relations  – is the hot topic.

Exactly how Britain resets its trade, commercial, industrial and overall economic agenda remains to be seen,such a broad reformation to both continue very valuable EU trade links and to also 'welcome the world' is obviously key.

The Economic Model Options -

To present and simplify the issue, the Financial Times via its 'FT Punk' video cartoon edition explains what alternative economic models might be seen as possible options; the cartoon using an automotive character theme to do so; whilst effectively inferring a negative outcome of a true split from Europe.

The themes illustrated for the UK are:

1. “Britain Alone” - whereby the UK looks to the Commonwealth, Rest of the World and EU via basic WTO rules, becoming far more marginalised from access to European trading.
2. The “Canada Model” - seeking to mimic this positively flexible EU arrangement whereby whilst noting that this applies to goods only (from Forestry to Fishing to Part Finished Vehicle Sub-Systems). Hence not services which are the bedrock of the UK export economy.
3. The “Norway Model” (EEA) – allows both goods and services into EU and a country by country basis for negotiation, but still requires free movement of people.
4. “The Lichetenstein Model” (EEA+) - effectively a highly tailored deal for a miniscule country of 36,000 people and simple economy, far from the 65,000,000 people of the UK and its highly diverse and complex economy.

It should be noted that George Osborne has been a long-time admirer of the Norwegian fiscal attitude of responsibility and propriety, and also envious of the enormous SWF created from North Sea oil income. Mimicking such a model as far as possible with an SWF would indeed be positive.

Much of any newly re-constructed relationship will of course rely upon the foundations of the 'two-way traffic' involved, critically the basis of provided and received funding from Brussels and the new circumstantial basis for trade.

Already we have witnessed the efforts of the Paris Bourse talk-up its capabilities regards the Euro-bond trade and other financial instruments, so as to undermine The City's future role.

Devaluation Sets the Ball Rolling -

Yet, critically here the dramatically lowered GBP could well serve not only Britain's international exports but also various European corporates.

Presently in-situ local carmakers in Sunderland, Oxfordshire and Derbyshire are obviously set to enjoy the fruits of the declined GBP, and if this devalued situation remains could well see not only expansion, as with Aston Martin's new Welsh plant for DBX, but also the possible return of major European volume makers.

Remember it was primarily the strength of the GBP that forced Peugeot to close its factory at Ryton in the Midlands in the late 1990s, this also cited by BMW executives as the vital cause for failure of Rover Cars (and its EU export hopes) during the same era.

And even if the large auto-producers don't retake the plunge back into the UK (because of the need to provide their own national domestic employment and better plant opportunities in EM regions) there is an argument that even more may be gained by the less conspicuous within the auto-sector.


1. The Supplier Base
2. Vehicle Conversion Specialists
3. Advanced Engineering Services

The Supplier Base -

Tier 1 and 2 parts and sub-systems suppliers who are able to more rapidly relocate at lesser costs for an FX advantage.

Those firms in the supplier-base could re-view Britain as a useful production location, using both the FX tailwind to provide reduced capital costs, more flexible European customer pricing, better attune company budgeting via more finely honed flexible production output and critically interact with UK research and development agencies at lower cost and thus with potentially higher future brand value and profit margins on more advanced products.

Vehicle Conversion Specialists -

Newly revived business cases are likely created for a set of firms who historically have experienced 'feast or famine', those who seek to offer specialist 'added value' via vehicle re-specification activities by typically substantial modification of standard “off the shelf” vehicles.

These span a plethora of uses, and is the case for:

A. high-profile brand-centric operators like Land Rover's internal SVO Dept.
B. lesser publicly known firms such as Marshal AD, operating in the Defence sector.
C. the various 'body-builders' who enjoy contracts from the emergency services
D. the number of chassis-cab based motor-home (and caravan) producers
E. those firms adapting vehicles for the less physically able (cars to mini-buses)

For each of these the lower GBP means a boost to their business models, which invariably deploy a wide mix of labour types from within the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled broad workforce by way of degree qualified engineers using CAD, experienced production technicians and new young apprentices.

Thus improved probability of either making the “business numbers stack-up” (no doubt so for most) or adding further to sizeable per unit margins (as per JLR's customised Defenders to Range Rovers).

Thus the GBP's fall helps to off-set the very unfortunate detrimental commercial impact of the recently introduced higher minimum wage, the cost of labour very critical to designed and manufactured products, even if seemingly more an issue related to the service sectors of retail or hospitality.

Furthermore and importantly, whilst it might be considered that UK based firms in question might be said to have a captive client-base with the emergency service type vehicles, 'blue-badge' vehicles, and the likes of extra-niche Land Rovers and Jaguars; in the past heir respective commercial efforts were often less secure than expected.

The emergency services themselves have been through tough budget cuts because of austerity measures which meant a harsh tender process for new procurement which in turn have had a direct impact on margins, cut-to-the-bone to obtain contracts.

Likewise what had been obtainable grants and loans for physical adaption of a vehicle, for owner-driver or charity organisation, saw funding cut so impacting upon the ability to order a specially adapted vehicle.

Whilst (in real terms) JLR SVO was (all too ironically) late to either recognise or reach into the 'hi-Performance', 'Premium Urban Warrior' and Hi-Luxury' markets, because of restricted CapEx and Research and Development monies for so long. Having seen other small ventures initiate the trend by mimicking what had happened with Hummer H2/H3, Mercedes Gelanderwagen and Jeep's auto-show concepts, via names like 'Twisted, 'Chelsea Truck' etc. (Even though Land Rover had itself shown many 'tailored-tough' concepts often drawn from its own product placement in movies (007, Lara Croft etc) it had been unable to truly exploit the trend beyond periodic special editions. Whilst it hesitated the market grew without its presence and became increasingly larger but also increasingly competitive.

As regards motorhomes and caravans, for decades the Germans, French and Italians have effectively owned this vehicle space, unsurprising given the size of the leisure and camping market across Europe thanks to a mix of product choice and good destination facilities. Though a few motorhome brands have gained traction (such as Swift) Britain never really had a comparable leisure-camping market because of the impact of package holidays from the mid 1970s onward.

However, typically in times of reduced economic circumstances, the UK does indeed see a return to such more affordable (often motor-based) leisure pursuits, noticeable off of a relatively small constant volume baseline.

And today's mix of constrained disposable incomes – especially for families, the much reduced buying power of the GBP in Europe, and rise in British patriotism (seen with 'Brexit') appears to indicate that the UK domestic motorhome, caravan and camping scene could well see a positive boost.

That boost domestically, plus the potential for export sales and ironically the possibility of lower-cost sub-contracted work for European counterparts, would undeniably assist the likes of Swift and its peers.

Advanced Engineering Services -

Given its automotive history and its precedence as a leading actor in future-forward engineering – presently illustrated by Britain as the construction heartland for Formula One – the country obviously seeks to re-bolster the national economic agenda with Advanced Engineering.

These primarily spanning both 'Eco' and 'Performance' realms to befit the needs of the automotive and wider and transport sectors. (Yet also interestingly, with possible efforts directed toward the broader reaches of industrial design, architecture and elsewhere).

New and more apt engineering design solutions achieved via ever better computer modelling capabilities, the ongoing development of materials sciences, innovation in production techniques and the enormous influence of electronics, have over the last four decades allowed for a relatively rapid evolution of exacting answers.

Whilst the ideals of common platforms for vehicles to aid scale production efficiencies have morphed into common module sets and adaptable platforms, such seeming homogenisation has been off-set by the adoption of ever more sophisticated engineering, both as ambitious, progressive technical routes and often equally important as a powerful 'performance' and / or 'eco' marketing story for the brand.

Although comparatively much smaller in size and GDP percentage contribution than in its industrial heyday, much of heavy industry long since departed, the remainder of the UK's engineering sector can still count itself as at, or at least very near, the forefront of technical discovery, innovation and productionisation; albeit typically at the smaller end of the scale in mid-volume (JLR) and niche (McLaren) production quantities.

However, it cannot be overstated that others in automotive technologies, namely Germany, Japan, S. Korea and America have demonstrated themselves as leaders in their respective fields.

BMW regards the scaling-up of carbon-fibre structures, stressed panels and components, aswell as duty-specific “mix and match” of advanced lightweight metals. Toyota (via a heavy early phase investment by its government) in the proven mass-production and so cost-reduction of hybrid-drive powertrains. Hyundai-Kia (with its access to domestic electronics research, development and integration) in the mainstream adoption of increasingly intelligent electronic systems. Tesla Motors in the provision of hi-performance, mid-distance range, all-electric vehicles thanks to evolutionary improvement of lithium-ion battery technology and the real-world provision of part-time, restricted environment, autonomous driving (even with the tragedy of a recent single death due to the failure of 'visual recognition' aids).

To this end, though Britain illustrates itself with Formula One engineering (systems integration to aerodynamics to seemlessly merged propulsion), has a wide spectrum of specialist vehicle knowledge (from leisure sports-cars to military armoured cars), has renowned and historical Engineering Services companies (such as Ricardo plc), and has a wealth of more recent and start-up customisation and personalisation firms (such as Kahn), there is a danger that the very breadth of necessary deep engineering knowledge across all systems is being incrementally surpassed by foreign organisations.

As seen, Germany able to draw strong financial resources from its position as premium auto-makers to the world and now very low cost ECB generated lending, Japan from its leap-frog lead since the Kyoto Summit and its volume sales learning, S. Korea from a combination of electronics expertise since the 1980s aswell as the cross-learning from its conglomerate structure, America from a combination of IT-orientated 'disruptive technology' fever driven Silicon Valley venture funds thereafter re-supported by access to a massive national and international capital markets base via Wall Street.

Each of these progressive ambitions and nurturing financial environs has indubitably assisted marches forward in specific disciplines and fields.

To this end Britain does indeed still has relevance as an engineering tour de force, especially regards the arenas of lightweight structures (as seen at JLR) and in the assisting of other countries' own motor industries (from Turkey in the 1960s [the then Rootes Group] to China in the early 2000s [with Ricardo-SAIC]), but that once unassaled position of leadership has been arguably degraded over the last twenty years.

Beyond own UK brand domestic engineering for JLR, Aston Martin, McLaren etc in advanced structures ,on-road dynamics and bespoke engines , it is seems the case that the UK is viewed today by the rest of the world of conventional EM auto- companies as simply useful 'go-to' experts in very specific one-off topics. Akin to the manner in which Malaysia's Proton utilised its ownership of Lotus Engineering.

These ranging from aerodynamics improvement to NVH suppression to 'ride and handling', to hybrid systems, to engine testing to whole car performance modification, thanks to a marriage of ever more refined and comprehensive computational software programmes and hands-on human experience.

Proton's and other client uses done so in an ad-hoc, piece-meal manner, making use only as necessary.

This should be of concern to the UK as other advanced countries demonstrate the right to their monikers with various proven engineering progression, and as ambitious emerging nations absorb ever more learning from those incumbent major manufacturers operating plants locally, and those new disruptors who can lure EM nations with a 'spoil of the profits' and simultaneously enable  their own technical learning through good policy alignment of their national economic agenda and academic efforts to 'search, learn, adopt and adapt' internally transferred foreign technology.

To this end the British “Catapult” Scheme must itself deliver and be seen to deliver the automotive advancement necessary to maintain the UK as a multi-dimensional Advanced Engineering Hub to the world.


The following Part 2 of this weblog very pointedly, and intentionally paradoxically, uses the 1971 French film 'Trafic' as a guiding light for both Britain's need for much regenerated creativity and the manner by which it should engage with Europe from here onward.

The relatively unknown but cult figure of Monsiuer Hulot has much to teach, from his design-engineer character to the ability to engage and innocently charm European border officials.

Monsieur Hulot conveys the very meaning of “entente cordial” that underpins and bolsters international trade.