Million Vehicles a Year Target for B.M.H.-Leyland
Geoffrey Charles, Motoring Correspondent of The Times, explains the importance to the motorist of the B.M.H.-Leyland merger, announced yesterday.
The B.M.H.-Leyland merger puts the new £410m. corporation almost on equal terms with the Volkswagen – Mercedes – Auto Union group of Germany and Fiat of Italy, or sixth in the world’s production ladder, at present led by the three American giants, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.
Before B.M.C. and Jaguar were merged in July, 1966, B.M.C. was Britain’s biggest vehicle manufacturer, holding 42 per cent of the market, represented by an annual production of around 880,000, or 19,500 vehicles a week.
In 1967, the big Austin-Morris-Jaguar group turned out about 697,000 which was well below their full capacity, while Leyland – incorporating Triumph, Rover and the Leyland commercial vehicles—accounted for about 195,000, aiming to reach 200,000 this year.
So the combined output of British Leyland Motor Corporation could approach the million mark in 1968-69, giving them the biggest range of cars and commercial vehicles outside the United States, besides the greatest export organisation in Europe, which will be one of the major assets of this merger.
B.M.H.’s top selling cars are all in the front-wheel-drive series, the Mini leading last year with 190,000 built.
Second comes the 1100/1300 series, of which 155,000 were produced—after holding No. 1 place for three years on the sales charts. Third place is still held by the B series models (A60, Morris Oxford, Austin Cambridge, Riley 4/72, Wolseley 16/60, and M.G. Magnette), accounting for 35,000.
Their fourth best-seller is the front-wheel-drive 1800 series (Austin, Morris and Wolseley), selling 34,500 in 1967. M.G. and Austin-Healey sports cars accounted for 45,000 sales, the long-lived Morris Minor for another 38,000, with Mini vans and small commercial vehicles adding 92,000.
On the Leyland front, the Triumph Herald range leads with 33,000 sales last year, almost equalled by the front-wheel-drive 1300 saloon, followed by the 2-litre 2000 (20,000), the Vitesse (7,000), Spitfire, GT6 and TR5 sports cars (28,500).
Rover produced nearly 35,000 cars (the Rover 2000 and 3-litre saloons), and about the same number of Land Rovers, while Leyland truck production added up to around 26.000 units.
B.M.C.’s model range is at present based around three basic engines, all Austin-inspired and going back to pre-B.M.C. days. The ordinary Mini saloons starts with a 4-cylinder 848 c.c. unit and go up to the specialised Mini-Cooper S with its 1,275 c.c. engine. Then there are estate car versions, the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet, with prices running from £509 to £849.
The Morris Minor range, powered by a 4-cylinder 1,098 c.c. engine, cost between £550 and £648. Next up the scale come the Austin / Morris / Riley / Wolseley / MG / Vanden Plas Princess front-wheel-drive saloons, now powered by a choice of 4-cylinder transversely-mounted 1,098 c.c. or 1,275 c.c. engines, with prices ranging from £647 to £1,092.
Still selling strongly to Nuffield adherents are the Pininfarina-styled A60-Morris Oxford, and their Wolseley, M.G. and Riley derivatives, with conventional front-engine, rear-drive layout, using the 1,622 c.c. 4-cylinder unit, and priced from £768 to just under £1,000.
A completely new range of I½ litre front-wheel-drive models is due to be phased into B.M.C.’s production, beginning this year and will gradually replace the 1.6-litre Farina-finned models.
At the top of B.M.C.’s saloon range are the 6-cylinder, 3-litre Austin A110 (£1,016 – £1,200), the Vanden Plas Rolls-Royce engined 4-litre Princess R (£2,030) and 4-litre Limousine (£3,259). Just coming on to the market is their new 3-litre, 6-cylinder Austin, at £1,418, destined to replace tho Westminster saloon.
From B.M.C.’s Abingdon stable comes a wide sports-car range of M.G.s and Austin-Healeys, which have been the corporation’s biggest overseas currency earners on world markets, helping them to maintain their position as Britain’s biggest producer and exporter of cars and commercial vehicles and the world’s largest maker of sports cars.
Jaguar, who came under the B.M.H. wing 18 months ago, gave them an extra 2 per cent of the market, adding a range of high-performance cars almost as wide as that of any other major group, with prices now ranging from £1,365 to £2,577, and a complete new range of cars and engines planned for introduction over the next two years.
Leyland, whose massive resuscitation of the Standard-Triumph company, followed by their linkup a year ago with Rover, now have a model range running from the £627 Triumph Herald 1200, through the front-wheel-drive 1300 saloon, up to their highly successful Triumph 2000, the Spitfire and TR5 sports cars, and Rover’s 2000, the newly engined 3.5-litre V8 saloons and the ubiquitous Land Rover.
Their commercial vehicle side accounts for three to four times the value in earnings of their main British competitors.
With so extensive a range of models-small, medium and large saloons, sports cars, semi-luxury and high-performance cars, as well as engines of four, six and eight cylinders, ranging from 850c.c. to 4.3 litres – B.M.H.-Leyland now cover virtually every section of the car market.
Clearly there will emerge some rationalisation of models and power units, as we saw after the formation of B.M.C. But there is unlikely to be any rapid reduction of model ranges.
Both B.M.C. and Jaguar have been investing heavily in future vehicles and B.M.C. in expansion and modernization of production facilities as well, including a now fully automated engine plant costing £16m., with a capacity of 5,000 engines a week.
Although B.M.C.’s long-established policy of “badge engineering” is criticised here and abroad, and may not be shared by Sir Donald Stokes’s organisation, Longbridge consistently justify it. Dealers themselves are in favour of it, and there are few (in Britain at least) who would want a common “B.M.H.” or “B.M.L.” badge on their showroom product.
While in the long term we may see common power units going into some of the more popular B.M.C. and Triumph cars, the new group are far more likely to concentrate on filling the gaps in each other’s markets, especially overseas—as is already happening with B.M.C. and Jaguar in North America, and between Rootes, Simca and their Chrysler parent throughout the world.
The real strength of the merger lies in its marketing possibilities—the creation of an organisation with the size and power to meet and beat competition from their international rivals, principally those controlled from Detroit and gaining increasing strength in Europe.
B.M.C.’s model range is now solidly complemented by Jaguar in the upper-price, high-performance bracket. It is here that Jaguar plan to concentrate their future development in competition with Mercedes-Benz in Europe and the growing V8 sports and GT challengers being produced by the United States car makers.
Leyland’s range of Triumph models dovetails conveniently into the Rover range, and there is still no suggestion that either the Rover or Triumph 2-litre saloons will be dropped—although we shall certainly see new variants before long.
Sir Donald Stokes is delighted with the continuing upward trend of Herald and 1300 sales, neither of these groups really clashing with B.M.C.’s 1100/1300 range, which has firmly cornered a different sector of the family car market.
Rover have long-term plans for extending the application of their Buick-based 3.5-litre V8 engine, now being built here. I foresee their future models will slot into the gap now filled by some of the Jaguars, as Jaguar prepare to bring in more powerful, more advanced and completely restyled models.
The biggest cars now under the new group are the Daimlers, running from the £1,616 V8-250 (which shares Jaguar’s styling) to the 4.5-litre Majestic Major Limousine, selling for £3,558. This is another luxury group which could now supplement Leyland’s range over the next few years.
Leyland will obviously retain the Land Rover and the Rover group’s Alvis military vehicles. The big Rover and Triumph cars will strengthen B.M.C.’s range at the more expensive end, for Longbridge’s main success has been primarily with small cars in the 850c.c. to 1 ½-litre bracket.
Leyland development plans for gas turbine-powered lorries and buses could also benefit substantially from B.M.C., who have long experience in turbine engine development.
But unquestionably the most significant advances will flow from joint marketing, once the B.M.H.-Leyland merger is completed. Leyland, already with a world-wide commercial network, are helping to push Land Rover sales to new records.
B.M.H. and Jaguar have weal-established outlets in North America, Europe and the Far East, exporting to more than 190 world markets through 19 overseas subsidiary companies, 500 distributors and over 5.000 dealers.
In 17 of these markets, B.M.C. vehicles are being assembled or progressively manufactured, while trucks are assembled in a further 43 territories.
The merger is completely logical, long-foreseen and one of the finest moves to strengthen and rationalise the British motor industry.
In the last financial year B.M.H. suffered a loss of £5m., after making more than £20m. profits in the previous boom year.
While Leyland have also endured a tough period, their last reported profit showing a fall of £4m., the group still had well over £16m. on the credit side.
Significantly, yesterday’s news from both groups was that they were now trading profitably, particularly in export markets since devaluation. Sir George Harriman recently said he expected B.M.H to achieve an extra 100,000 sales overseas in 1968—an increase of 40 per cent over last year.