LONDON -- When Britain lost its last native car company 20 years ago, it was lamented across the political spectrum as a national catastrophe.
"The sheer stupidity and immorality of this betrayal is too scandalous to be ignored," wrote a columnist in the conservative Times of London.
The left-leaning Guardian bemoaned: "No one can conceive of Renault, Fiat or indeed BMW fattening themselves up after years of emaciation, ready for sell-off to a foreign rival."
Britain's Rover was falling into the hands of BMW -- 50 years after Germany had begun pulling itself out of the economic abyss left by the Second World War.
The blow to British pride was made all the more acute by the success of France, where Peugeot and Renault were speeding ahead. In 1994 French producers made more than three million cars, double Britain's output.
Now, the tables have turned dramatically. Britain last year produced more cars than France for the first time in decades: 1.51 million to France's 1.46 million. The French retain a narrow lead when light vans are included, but Britain is set to pass them soon and become Europe's No. 3 after Germany and Spain.
The value of British car exports has doubled in the past 10 years, and this year Britain enjoyed its best-ever July for automobile exports since industry records began in the 1920s.
In France, meanwhile, government assistance has kept Peugeot afloat as both it and Renault lost domestic market share. "Car production in France has suffered greatly these past 10 years," France's new Finance Minister Emmanuel Macron told reporters at a presentation of Peugeot's compressed-air hybrid cars in Paris late last month.
But the answer, he said, was more state investment, not less, in programs such as fuel-efficient concept cars and transmissions.
"These are projects in which the French state has invested more than 400 million euros ($500 million) over the past three years, and we'll invest more in the next three years because we believe in them," Macron said. "We have everything we need to reclaim our lead over the U.K. in coming years."
At the biennial Paris auto show this month, this tale of two car industries was especially on display. Though separated only by the narrow English Channel, their divergent fates stem in large part from a wide gulf in capitalist philosophies.
Britain embraced free-market globalization, which -- while inflicting pain on workers and shareholders -- allowed under-performing native companies to fail and be bought by foreign-owned automakers.
Nissan Motor Corp. and BMW are prominent among the buyers, and India's Tata Motors owns iconic British brands Jaguar and Land Rover. Native ownership and national pride have taken a back seat.
"We benefit from openness," Britain's Business Secretary Vince Cable told Reuters.
"A lot of the mythology around foreign companies -- that when they came here they would just gouge out a bit of intellectual property and run away -- was untrue. They have actually invested very heavily."
France, a much larger land mass than the United Kingdom, industrialized more gradually and has hewed to a statist capitalism in which politicians heavily influence, and at times even dictate, major corporate decisions. French leaders through the decades have used the car industry to increase manufacturing jobs in formerly rural areas.
Key to this is retaining French control, which was a core concern earlier this year when China's Dongfeng Motors, under French government strictures, took a minority stake in Peugeot and injected fresh capital into the ailing company.
The French state itself has minority stakes and board seats in both Peugeot and Renault -- reflecting a culture of government involvement that extends well beyond the auto industry.
America's General Electric Co., for example, had to agree to French government conditions including a jobs pledge when it acquired French engineering company Alstom earlier this year. Government guidance is widely viewed as the key to creating and keeping jobs.
"There is a completely different approach compared to Britain," said Socialist lawmaker Francois Brottes, who heads the French parliament's economic committee.
"The presence of the state is in no way a brake on growth -- it is a form of safety belt. It's crucial to have the state as a stable shareholder, whose needs are clear, who will be there in the long term even when times are tough."
Even so, the diverging fortunes of both auto industries sharply mirror their national economies.
Britain's recovery from the 2008-09 recession has been exceptionally slow by historic standards, but unemployment is now falling, inflation remains low and this year the economy is forecast to grow faster than any other major advanced nation.
In France, the jobless rate stubbornly tops 10 percent, four percentage points higher than Britain's. In August, French manufacturing shrank at its steepest rate in 15 months and President Francois Hollande recently said the country will miss public deficit targets.