Life

TV Review: Capitalism won the car war

James May with a model Jaguar E-Type, Land Rover Series 1, Triumph Dolomite Sprint and Mazda 323. pic by BBC Photographer Rod Fountain
Billy Foley

James May's Cars Of The People, BBC 2, Sunday at 9pm

James May came up with a brilliant thesis for this one - "To win at cars you must lose at war."

He reckons that there is a connection between Germany and Japan losing the Second World War and winning the car race.

The two countries have dominated the world's car market from the 1980s, little more than a generation after they lay in ruin and defeat.

In Japan's case it dominated the car market within a few decades of being the only country in the world to suffer the effects of a nuclear attack.

May's right; without doubt it is an incredible achievement in one of the world's most competitive industries.

So successful have they been that Britain, which was the second largest car maker at the arrival of the 1950s, now makes virtually nothing of his own. Almost all of the cars produced in Britain are owned by foreign companies.

It was a wonderful thesis but May never really proved it. He did make a reasonable suggestion that with their governments forbidden from producing military hardware, all the expertise of Germany and Japan went into civilian engineering while Britain, the US and Russian - the war winners - were busy in the arms race.

Unfortunately for the British, the cold war killed my car industry argument is a greater defence for the Americans.

However, May never really provided any numbers or examples to back this up and instead concentrated on the defects in the US and British industries and the key strengths of their competitors.

Germany concentrated on quality and reliability (BMW, VW) while Japan's expertise was in efficient, economical and reliable small cars (Nissan, Toyota, Honda).

Meanwhile, the complacent Americans were continuing to build gas-guzzlers during the oil crisis of the 1970s and sheltering the Detroit car makers from international competition, while British companies were beset by bad management and trade union revolution and produced cars only the Eastern Bloc would have been proud of.

Ultimately the consumer decided.

It wasn't the war that mattered but capitalism - and Germany and the Japanese were better at it.

***

Putin's Secret Millions, Panorama, Monday at 8.30pm

It seems that the Americans have had enough of Vladimir Putin and his particular kind of crony capitalism.

It was remarkable to see a US Treasury Department official giving an interview to Panorama and saying openly that the Russian leader was corrupt.

That it's true is not the remarkable thing - what is unusual is that the American administration would be so open about it.

Putin has been in power for about 16 years and presumably has been amassing his estimated personal wealth of $40 billion in that time.

He has appointed family members and old friends from St Petersburg to run state business and it is claimed takes a cut of all transactions.

One exiled Russian told how Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich gave Putin a $25 million yacht, while another told how Putin's men demanded 15 per cent of the profits of his company. After a bit of negotiation they agreed to 4 per cent.

The punishment for not playing his game is exile or jail. Or as one commentator put it: "He plays the old game of ‘everything for my friends, the law for my enemies'."

So what has changed to warrant so undiplomatic an attack from the US?

It is only within the last two years that the Russian strongman has adopted a more aggressive foreign policy position.

The annexation of the Crimea, proxy invasion of the eastern Ukraine and military engagement in Syria have certainly spooked the Americans.

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