A couple of weeks ago I found myself on four flights in as many days. That gave me time to dig around in the business sections of the newspapers and so I stumbled across a very interesting chart on the state of retailers in the UK.

The Times ran a small chart of the Britain’s ‘Top Ten fastest-growing retailers’. At number one was Aldi, but we’ve all heard about the rise and rise of this discount retailer. Number two was Waitrose, probably Britain’s premier supermarket, where the prices match the quality.

At number three and four were Sports Direct and Primark, two other highly successful discount retailers.

And here’s the odd thing. The fifth and sixth fastest growing retailers were Burberry and John Lewis. Both are upmarket operations, operating at the higher end of their respective markets.

Indeed, British Home Stores – a classic middle market operation – has just been sold for £1.

The inescapable conclusion is that the retail world is only working at the extremes: discount and premium. Which is much like the European auto industry.

The big difference is that the discount end of the car industry doesn’t want to be discounted. According to one auto analyst, as much as two thirds of the cars sold in Europe are sold at loss.