There’s nowt wrong with a catchy one-liner, but the often-repeated claim that goes something like “the switch from internal combustion to pure-electric cars is the biggest change ever in the history of the auto industry” is not right, I suspect.
If you really must know what the largest transformation was (and still is), in the last 100-plus years of car building, here’s your answer – Asia.
In the 1970s, the first Asian car maker – Japan – broke the Europe/North America “cartel” by tempting buyers into models offering more bang for their buck and better quality. A decade or two later, South Korea – an even smaller country with far fewer people – also launched itself as a maker of value cars for export. Neighbouring China jumped on the bandwagon, too. Result? In recent years the trio has comprehensively cleaned up by collectively building more than half of the world’s cars, thereby making the Asians the undisputed, untouchable world champions.
But who and what in Asia is the next big thing? In one sense such a country already exists. It’s India, but it has a problem in that (unlike the dominant “Big 3”, who build and export cars wearing, for example, globally recognised and desirable Toyota, Hyundai and MG badges) the Indians don’t have nameplates that the world’s showrooms crave. For now at least, Tata or Hindustan-badged vehicles wouldn’t cut it in western showrooms. Similarly, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand each build hundreds of thousands of cars a year, but are also bereft of homegrown brands that appeal to sufficiently large numbers of buyers overseas.