Thursday, August 11, 2005

Interview with Marc Baxter: Part I

As I promised in previous postings, I would attempt to interview people working in the British auto industry. My first interview is with Marc Baxter of BMW/Mini UK. His position with the company is that of head of "Competitive Intelligence". It's a department I'm sure all car companies have, just not necessarily under that name. His department analyzes rivals in the UK market to BMW/Mini, and influences sales and marketing for his company's cars subsequently.

One of the reasons I see the British auto industry as interesting is because I see it as a direct possible future for America. People have asked me, why work in the British auto industry? Isn't it dead? My answer to them is that it can hardly be considered dead due to the fact that the UK is a very large car market (By Mr. Baxter's account, the third largest in the world for BMW, and probably in the top 10 overall). Just because its large domestic manufacturers have either been absorbed by foreign companies, or destroyed doesn't mean that manufacturing of automobiles in this country has stopped. Quite the contrary, for according to Mr. Baxter, the Mini, which is built entirely in the UK at Oxford, its factory has received hundreds of millions more pounds in investment from its BMW parent.

The future of the American car market might just be corporate headquarters of foreign car companies where these HQs deal almost entirely with marketing and sales, rather than the actual building of the cars. That is left to a foreign headquarters somewhere else in the world (most likely Japan or Germany). There will still be manufacturing in the US, it's just that the cars will also be designed and engineered elsewhere. It hasn't happened to as great a degree as it has in Britain, but the general trend in the US is towards this.

The BMW headquarters for the UK is located in the suburb of Bracknell, which is sort of a brand new planned city to the west of London. With its many business parks and new roads it looks a lot like an American suburb. Public transportation is not as comprehensive as in London, and there is a great deal more car usage by the public. Houses have driveways, two cars: they look just like American planned lots, except smaller and no pickups are to be found. I was a little disappointed in this, as I was hoping that Britain would be less dependent on fossil fuels than this. But the fact that the cars most people were driving were more efficient, and the public transportation was still capable was a better sign for the future than in the US.

And one last similarity: In the center of the town was a strip mall. Yes, the dreaded grotesque American creation has flown over the pond and landed here as well. The shops had different names, but sold the same wares.

Part 2 of the interview will come tomorrow. Sorry for not taking pictures, but you'll have to take my word for it that Bracknell is a lot like an American suburban town. I actually may be returning to Bracknell in a few weeks, and will take photos at that time.

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