On 29 June 1905, a group of motoring enthusiasts met at the Trocadero restaurant in London’s West End to form the Automobile Association – an organisation initially intended to help motorists avoid police speed traps. As motoring became more popular, so did the AA – 100 members in 1905 grew to 83,000 by 1914. As membership expanded, so did their activities.
In 1906 the AA began to erect the country’s first effective danger and warning signs, and they’ve been committed to promoting road safety ever since. In 1907 the AA offered members a car insurance policy – 23 years before it became a legal requirement.
They introduced the first AA routes around 1910 with handwritten details and by 1929 they were issuing 239,000 routes a year. In 2003 this number had risen to a staggering 32 million. The AA has always produced routes and travel guides, a business activity that has grown rapidly in recent years – AA Publishing is now the UK’s largest travel publisher, producing more than 8 million books in 2003.
From 1912 the AA also started to inspect hotels, and those receiving the AA’s famous star classification were included in subsequent editions of the ‘Members’ Handbook’. Today they inspect and rate more than 8,000 hotels and bed and breakfast establishments each year and review almost 2,000 restaurants, publishing the results in a series of annual guides.
By 1939, 2 million cars were on UK roads and 725,000 motorists had joined the AA.
After the Second World War, they led the protest against petrol rationing, which was finally lifted in 1950. It was a campaign that reflected the AA’s traditional role of championing motorists’ rights.
Since that time the AA has led a number of major campaigns – including the compulsory wearing of seatbelts, which became law in 1983, and the introduction of unleaded petrol. In recent years, they have lobbied successive governments over unfair motoring taxes and the lack of investment in transport. The AA has always been innovative in harnessing new technology. The introduction of two-way radio after the Second World War saw the 1949 launch of a night-time breakdown service in the London area, which was gradually extended to cover most of Britain.
In October 1973, AA Relay was introduced, guaranteeing to transport any vehicle that could not be fixed at the roadside – together with driver, passengers, luggage and trailer or caravan – to any destination in Britain.
In 1990, they launched the AA Driving School. It is the only national body to use fully qualified instructors and today employs more than 1,700 franchised instructors. In June 1999, they set a new standard for the breakdown and recovery industry and came first in the annual JD Power survey of 25,000 drivers.
In 2000, the AA confirmed its pre-eminence at the roadside, as JD Power named it the UK’s top-ranked roadside assistance provider for the second year running.
In December 2002 the AA received company-wide Investors in People accreditation. The scheme is a national standard that sets out a level of good practice for improving an organisation’s performance through its people.
In May 2003 they came top of the JD Power roadside assistance survey for the fourth time in five years. And in November of that year, they came top of a ‘Which?’ survey of breakdown organisations carried out by the Consumers’ Association.
In September 2003 all 3,500 AA patrols were issued with state-of-the-art roadside diagnostic equipment. This laptop computer allows patrols to plug into a car’s electronics to diagnose the cause of a breakdown as well as access to the AA’s wealth of technical support information and breakdown deployment details. Later in the year the innovation won ‘Autocar’s’ idea of the year award.
In February 2004 their online route planner introduced street-level detail on all routes across Britain. A ground-breaking online service for car buyers was launched in April 2004, called AA Car Buyer’s Guide. It provides a one-stop shop for AA advice, products and services that remove much of the risk associated with buying a new or second-hand car. May 2004 saw the AA’s biggest publishing launch in 15 years with a new travel series called ‘Key Guides’.
And in June 2004 the AA launched a new breakdown promise – ‘to fix your car by the roadside or get you another one’. This gives AA personal members a courtesy car for 24 hours if their broken-down vehicle cannot be fixed at the roadside. In July 2004 they introduced their industry-leading AA Telephone Savings Account.
On 1 October 2004 the AA left the Centrica group following its acquisition by two leading European private-equity firms – CVC and Permira.
Today AA membership stands at more than 15 million.