Plant Oxford

Aerial view of Plant Oxford (large white buildings)

Plant Oxford located in Cowley, southeast Oxford, England, is owned by BMW (UK) Manufacturing Limited (a subsidiary of BMW), and is the central assembly facility for the Mini range of cars. The plant forms the Mini production triangle along with Plant Hams Hall where engines are manufactured and Plant Swindon where body pressings and sub-assemblies are built.

The Cowley site had three manufacturing plants, separated by the eastern Oxford Ring Road and B480 road. The present site of Plant Oxford was the car body manufacturing business of the Pressed Steel Company, later known as Pressed Steel Fisher, which was founded 1926. The car south and north assembly plants originally Morris Motors plants, later part of Austin Rover Group and lastly as the Rover Group. The whole site was reorganized in the 1990s and now only the original Pressed Steel Company portion of the factory still remains.[1]


In 1912, William Morris bought the former Oxford Military College in Cowley. Moving his company into the new site, from 1914 onwards Morris pioneered Henry Ford-style mass production in the UK, by building what became affectionately known as "the old tin shed." To facilitate more efficient production, the Great Western Railway opened Morris Cowley railway station to serve the thousands of workers commuting to the factory. In 1933, they built a railway goods yard beside the Wycombe Railway to bring supplies into the factory, and take completed vehicles away. This railway yard still exists today and serves the current vehicle-manufacturing plant, though the railway to High Wycombe has long been lifted.

As Cowley expanded into a huge industrial centre, it attracted workers during the Great Depression looking for work. This resulted in the need for new housing, including from the 1920s Florence Park, built mainly by private landlords. Like many contemporary industrialists of the time, Morris wanted to provide for the whole life of its workers, and so developed the Morris Motors Athletic & Social Club on Crescent Road, which still exists today.

World War II

Approached in 1935 by the Air Ministry about the factory's ability to change to aircraft industry production, additional capacity was built into the factory through the shadow factory plan from 1937. During World War II the factory produced the de Havilland Tiger Moth training aeroplane. Also developed on site was the No 1 Metal and Produce Recovery Depot run by the Civilian Repair Organisation, to handle crashed or damaged aircraft, and even the processing of wreckage from enemy Luftwaffe aircraft. Artist Paul Nash was inspired to paint Totes Meer based on sketches he made of the recovery depot.

Post war

Despite successive company mergers and name changes, "Morris's" is still often used as the name of the car factory to this day, a brief timeline of the plant's history is as follows:

By the early 1970s, over 20,000 people worked in Cowley at the vast British Leyland and Pressed Steel Fisher plants. After re-organisation, PSF became part of the reorganised Austin Rover, while parts Unipart was floated off in a management buyout, but still has its global headquarters next to the Morris plant. Like the rest of the company at this point, industrial action was high as successive management teams tried unsuccessfully to drive through reform of the British Motor manufacturing industry. The local workers became well known for not accepting wage cuts, union-busting, with national trade union militants including local Alan Thornett.

Much rationalization took place at the plant in the early 1980s, as BL restructured its manufacturing operations in the light of the Ryder Report. Production of the Austin Maxi ended in 1980 to make way for the Honda-based Triumph Acclaim, whilst production of the Princess range was scaled back to make room for the Rover SD1 the following year following the closure of the car production lines at Solihull. All future large Rovers would therefore be built at Cowley until the BMW sell-off in 2000.

The Morris marque was abandoned in 1984, when production of the Longbridge-built Morris Ital finished; it had been transferred there from Cowley in September 1982, two years after its launch. The transfer of the Ital from Cowley was to make way for the Austin Maestro and Montego, which were launched in March 1983 and April 1984 respectively, continued in production until December 1994, though production was gradually cut back after 1989 following the launch of the Longbridge-built Rover 200 and 400 series models.[2]

In 1992, British Aerospace sold the entire site to property group Arlington Securities, itself later sold to the Australian property company Macquarie Goodman, now the Goodman Group and most of the old site was demolished.[3]

Owner of Rover Group, British Aerospace, agreed a partnership with Honda, with Honda taking a 20% stake in the company, in return for joint-development of the new Rover 600 and 800, both produced at Cowley. The 800 Series had been launched in mid 1986 and facelifted at the start of 1992;[4] a year before the launch of the 600 Series.

Despite 1989 seeing a then record of more than 2,300,000 new cars being sold in the United Kingdom, falling demand for the 800 Series resulted in 1,800 job cuts at Cowley being announced in October of that year.[5]

On 31 January 1994, BAe announced sale of its 80% majority share of Rover Group to BMW.[6] On 21 February, Honda announced it was selling its 20% share of Rover Group, resulting in problems in Rover's supply chain which was highly reliant on Honda.[6] BMW invested heavily in Rover, and particularly the Cowley plant, which became the production centre for the new Rover 75 in late 1998.

Models produced

Morris Motors/BMC/British Leyland/Austin Rover/Rover Group
Pressed Steel Fisher (car bodies only)
(pressings only)
(complete finished bodies)

Plant Oxford today

South-east facing side of Plant Oxford

In 2000, BMW broke up the Rover Group, selling MG Rover and its products to the Phoenix consortium for the nominal sum of £10, which included the Longbridge plant.

BMW agreed to redevelop the entire Cowley plant site with the Goodman Group, demolishing much of the factory, to create a new factory called Plant Oxford. The residual parts of the former Morris Motors site were placed into a redevelopment project called the Oxford Business Park, which now houses offices of numerous companies including: European headquarters of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles; the global headquarters of international aid charity Oxfam; Wiley-Blackwell; Royal Mail; HM Revenue and Customs; and a large David Lloyd fitness centre.

Plant Oxford now produces the new Mini, built by BMW since May 2001.[10] It is the largest industrial employer in Oxfordshire. In February 2009, 850 jobs cuts at the site were announced, resulting in union bosses being pelted with food by angry agency staff who felt that the union had failed to do enough to try and save their jobs.[11]

Group tours of the plant are offered and should be booked in advance.[12]

In October 2015, a two episode series Building Cars Live was filmed there to show how a car is built. It was presented by James May, Kate Humble and Ant Anstead.

Production numbers

Production volumes of all Mini models produced at Plant Oxford.[13]

2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
Production volume 191,475 216,301 213,670 235,018 237,700 186,674 200,119 189,492 174,366 160,000
Staff numbers 3,448 3,795 4,471 5,253 4,922 6,108 4,930

Staff numbers shown here include "temporary" staff.

These figures exclude production numbers of the Mini Countryman, which is manufactured in Austria. Since 2014 Mini "hatch" and "convertible" models have also been assembled, under contract, by VDL Nedcar in the Netherlands.[14]


  1. "Pressed Steel Company". American City Business Journals. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  2. "lm10storyf". UK: AROnline. Retrieved 4 May 2014. External link in |publisher= (help)
  3. "Press release". UK: IBB. 20 December 2005. Retrieved 4 May 2014. External link in |publisher= (help)
  4. "xxindexf". UK: AROnline. Retrieved 4 May 2014. External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. "UK car sales hit record". BBC News. 7 January 2002.
  6. 1 2 "1994: MPs condemn sale of Rover". BBC News. BBC. 1 February 1994. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
  7. "1949 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn Saloon". Bonhams. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  8. "1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud I 4-Door Saloon". Antique Auto Museum. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  9. 1 2 "A Catalogue of the Papers of the Pressed Steel Fisher Division". University of Warwick. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  10. "A new life for the Mini". BBC News. 22 May 2001.
  11. "Job cuts at Mini spark angry rows". BBC News. 16 February 2009.
  12. "Plant Tours at MINI Plant Oxford". Oxford Visitor Information Centre. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  13. BMW (UK) Manufacturing Limited Directors' report and financial statements. 2002-2001
  14. "REPORT OF THE MANAGEMENT BOARD ... Products and production volume" (PDF). ANNUAL REPORT 2015. VDL Nedcar B.V. (VDL Nedcar). 18 April 2016. p. 8. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
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