Labour flexibility is a major way for companies to become more flexible. Why companies use flexible labour relations varies widely per industry. We assess the development of labour flexibility within the Dutch automotive industry. Four cases, together representing the production chain, are presented. We show how and why these companies arrived at the high level of sophistication in labour relations they currently have and what combinations of internal and external, numerical and functional forms have emerged. The process has been one of trial and error, characterised by emerging rather than deliberate strategy. It has a clear pattern over time. In three out of our four companies, an innovative labour use strategy emerged, finely tuned to market demands, new institutional realities and specific company needs.