Business big shot: Richard Parry-Jones of the Automotive Council


Richard Parry-Jones, the engineer once known as Ford’s “secret weapon”, has been charged with saving Britain’s car manufacturing industry from the scrapheap.

The former vice-president of product development at Ford has agreed to lead the Government’s new Automotive Council, formed to address the “long-term strategic challenges” facing the UK car industry — or “government ambivalence” and lack of long-term policy, as Mr Parry-Jones described it in a report on the state of the industry this year.

“It [the Government] has been laissez faire and occasionally interventionist when there is a crisis … In other countries there is a long history of government support and behind-the-scenes collaboration because there is a strong recognition of the importance of the industry,” Mr Parry-Jones said. He wants British workers to be trained in the development and manufacturing of green technology, which he believes could create thousands of jobs.

Mr Parry-Jones will co-chair the council with Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary. Born in Bangor, Wales in 1951, Mr Parry-Jones is the ultimate petrolhead. He wrote to Ford asking about jobs when he was 12. “You’re a bit young,” the company replied, but agreed that he could be a sponsored student when he went to university.

He joined Ford in 1969 as a trainee and earned a first class honours degree in mechanical engineering from Salford University before spending nearly 30 years at the carmaker, with spells in a variety of senior R&D and manufacturing posts in England, Germany and America.

Between 1994 and 1998 he was vice-president of the product development group, during which time he led development of models including the Focus, Ka, Fiesta and Puma. He applies what he calls the “50-metre test” to every car: “You can tell how good any car is within 50 metres from the ways it responds to your inputs and gives feedback. It should feel connected and coherent. If you work hard enough, you can do this for ordinary customers at ordinary prices.”

The result was the Mondeo, credited as one of the favourite cars of Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear presenter and motoring columnist.

Mr Parry-Jones was promoted to group-vice president in 1998 before being appointed chief technical officer in 2001. He resigned in 2007.

The Government will hope that the unveiling of the “secret weapon” will see a greener British car industry rise from the ashes.

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