A Spice Girls revival is more likely than a Nokia one

CAST your mind back to 1997. Tony Blair’s New Labour had won a landslide election, Britannia was cool and Channel 5 was going to save the television industry. For some, it is a Spice Girls song that best evokes the era or, for those with better taste, a Radiohead tune. For me, it has to be the once ubiquitous Nokia ring-tone. It heralded the explosion of mass mobile phone usage, and it confirmed Nokia was king.

How times have changed. Yesterday, Nokia’s stock tumbled to its lowest closing price since that iconic year, following yet another profit warning. The bad news was compounded by the fact that its Lumia 900 smartphone – billed by the firm as an “iPhone killer” – has been bedevilled by a software bug in the US.

In truth, a software bug hardly matters. Nokia’s attempt to launch a fightback against Apple and the other luxury smartphone makers has always smacked of futility. That ship has long since sailed. Its share of the global market for phones worth more than $300 now stands at under 10 per cent.

It should have instead focused its energies on the sub-$200 smartphone market, a segment that it continues to dominate, and one that will grow exponentially over the next few years as legions of people in emerging markets purchase such devices. Alas, even if Nokia were to change tack, it would face stiff competition from the likes of China’s Huawei. Nokia – like Blair and the Spice Girls – belongs in the past.

My favourite fact of the day has to be that China has now become BMW’s largest market. The luxury car maker, which also owns the Rolls-Royce and Mini marques, sold 80,000 cars there in the first quarter, a year-on-year increase of 37 per cent. Next biggest was the US, where it sold 76,000 cars, followed by Germany, which notched up sales of 66,000.

The majority of the Chinese cars were made in factories in Chongqing, under BMW's partnership with Brilliance Automotive. Although one of the major draws is the German engineering, China’s most discerning car buyers now have faith in their country’s ability to manufacture top-notch goods.

That is hardly surprising when you consider that Apple’s products are made in the country. Shortly before he died, Steve Jobs told President Obama he would have liked to make at least some of Apple’s merchandise in the US, but that the country didn’t have the skills or knowledge he could find in China.

The days of a “Made in China” mark denoting something cheap or shoddy are clearly over.