16 April 2018

A history of 50 years of Car Assembly in Ireland

Stephen Byrne, MD, Mercedes-Benz; Robert Poole, former Secretary of SIMI; author Bob Montgomery; Larry Mooney, former MDL employee and Chairman of C.A.R.; and Gavin Hydes, President of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, pictured at today's book launch.
Today marked a special day for the Irish Motor Industry with the launch of Bob Montgomery's 'Motor Assembly in Ireland' which charts 50 years of car assembly in this country, writes Trish Whelan.

The event took place in the marvellous car museum in Motor Distributors Limited on the Naas Road in Dublin, home to Mercedes-Benz, and was attended by a huge audience from the motor industry, past and present.

Bob's book is the story of the fifty plus makes of cars that were assembled during the fifty-year lifespan of the Industry. With 240 pages and 205 illustrations, this book is full of information about the makes of cars assembled, many of them surprising, and the personalities involved with them.

Rosemary Smith and Frank Keane.
The book is the result of a joint desire by C.A.R. (whose members include many who worked in the Assembly Industry) and the Royal Irish Automobile Club Archive, to record this important piece of automotive history.

Larry Mooney, former MDL employee and Chairman of C.A.R. said: "Just how difficult this book must have been for Bob can be summed up in an email received the other day from a C.A.R. colleague who said, 'I am glad that the subject has been written up while there are still people around who remember the facts, or at least the facts as they remember them. I think that this book is a significant historical document that has recorded an important part of our economic heritage."

Arthur Collier, Chairman of the Royal Irish Automobile Club added: "The RIAC was deeply involved with the introduction of the automobile to Ireland at the turn of the last century. Therefore, I am especially pleased to see yet another important chapter in Irish motoring history committed to paper so that we can all appreciate the vibrant and varied industry that existed around the production of the automobile in Ireland. Bob's book is a welcome addition to the records that we hold of the history of motoring and motorsport in Ireland for future generations to appreciate."

The manufacturing and heavy industry we know today was a distant dream for an emerging Republic in the 1920s and early 1930s. In contrast to today, The Republic of Ireland at that time was stagnating with an economy almost entirely based on agriculture. Two visionaries understood that developing and encouraging a manufacturing sector would be paramount in dragging such a small economy onto the world stage.

James Wyse, formerly of Citroen; and Gemma Maughan, Gowan Group.
Sean Lemass, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, along with FM Summerfield, understood that this process needed to be jumpstarted somehow. They conceived the idea of assembling motor cars in the Republic which up till then was only carried out in more industrialised countries.

Bob Montgomery said: "It should be remembered that at the time assembly was introduced, the Free State had virtually no light industry manufacturing, yet within six months there were no fewer than 13 assembly plants in operation together with the necessary component suppliers. In the years that followed, in the region of 52 different makes of cars were assembled here."

To get the process started, in 1933 Sean Lemass provided a tax concession to companies who engaged in assembling cars. The result was that within a year there were 13 assembly plants importing cars in in CKD form - completely knocked down - where the key components were taken from the manufacturing line and shipped to Ireland for assembly. A significant light industrial sector developed around these plants providing tyres, batteries, glass, springs, spark plugs, upholstery, paint and other components.

Bob Montgomery at today's launch with his son Robert (Mitsubishi Motors).
Bob explained: "This was the true start of the light manufacturing industry in Ireland that continued until the last cars were produced in 1984 after our accession to the EC. I feel that this is a vital, and often under appreciated, stage in the transition of the Republic of Ireland from an agriculture-based to an industrial economy."

Former Toyota employee Jim Cusack, with Steve Tormey, CEO, Toyota Ireland.
The book is available from major bookshops or directly from Bob Montgomery at dreoilin95@icloud.com. Distribution: Gill Distribution.