'Most Improved' Category - Most Improved Factory - Land Rover.
The sight that greeted the judges as they arrived on the factory floor at Land Rover, Solihull, was one rarely seen in today's high-tech, right-first-time motor industry. A small group of men were beating out press defects from vehicle bonnets before delivering them to the assembly line. The spectacle exemplified some of the major challenges faced by this year's winner in the Most Improved category - like the age range of its product line and the low volume of its production.
The Defender, as the original Land Rover is known these days, dates back to 1948. Conceived as a short-term stopgap with export potential, the vehicle is still in production 45 years later. Only the VW Beetle has been in continuous production for a longer period of time. Land Rover misread the market just as comprehensively when it introduced the Discovery in 1989. The latter car was a response to the Japanese incursion into the four-wheel drive sector. At the time the company believed, as managing director Terry Morgan recalls, that 'production might reach 300 vehicles a week'. In spite of widespread recession in the motor industry, production is currently running at almost three times that level. Yet Land Rover's output is still minuscule by motor industry standards. (Ford turns out nearly 7,000 Mondeos a week from a single plant.) Even with £1 billion of sales in 1993, the company is still, as Morgan agrees, 'a niche player' - with all the limitations which that implies.