Building cars live – a polished performance
We were told to expect a journey into the fascinating and secret world of modern car production, with an exploration of the evolution of global mass production, with ex-Top Gear presenter James May leading the way.
It was fascinating to go behind the scenes at Plant Oxford, as it’s called, where a brand new MINI drives off the production line just about every minute. In the first episode we were introduced to the vast army of robots that work alongside hundreds of diligent humans that combine so expertly to dispel the myth that British manufacturing is dead.
I have to admit to a personal interest in the subject matter, given the small, but we like to think essential part Borough plays in the creation of the huge range of MINI models available. And although the materials have changed considerably over the life of the car, chrome still features heavily inside and out for the latest incarnation.
Although the cars roll off the production line in Oxford, the other two plants are integral to the build of each car, with Plant Hams Hall supplying the engines and Plant Swindon producing the body pressings and sub-assemblies.
We even got to see some of our components winging their way along the production line, which raised an involuntary shout of delight. Many of the chrome plated ABS components we supply feature in sub-assemblies, which require a huge degree of variation, given one manager on the production line stated that they have never turned out two cars the same, in all the years they have been building MINI.
It is perhaps this ability for customers to order a uniquely specified car that has seen the incredible growth of the brand in recent years. This growth has seen more than 2.5 million cars built at Plant Oxford, since production of new MINI started in 2001 and delivered to proud owners in more than 110 countries across the world.
The need for chrome plated components to cope with the weather and road conditions in this huge number of countries ensures we have to work hard to create products not only of high quality, but high durability. Interior satin chrome has to cope with much the same conditions everywhere, but the bright exterior chrome has to survive extreme heat, extreme cold, salt, sand and humidity, whilst retaining the high polish for which it is renowned.
We are proud to be part of the about 40% of components that MINI relies on from UK-based suppliers and hope programmes like this that emphasise the strength of the automotive sector in the UK, become a permanent fixture of BBC schedules in the future. Best tart up our offices in preparation for the arrival of the cameras!