The great Leyland comeback?
As a person that knows just one or two things about the bus and coach world, my eyes opened at the news of one of the UK’s largest independent bus body builders is to be a quarter owned by an Indian concern. What makes this interesting is that both companies have their background deeply rooted with Leyland Motors and British Leyland.
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Optare was formally known as Charles H Roe. British Leyland owned Roe along with other well-known body plants including Eastern Coachworks in Lowestoft and the Park Royal plant in London. As the market shrank in the mid 1980s, BL closed all of the plants down with the exception of Roe in Leeds after its manager, Russell Richardson, offered Leyland a management buy-out.
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Ashok Leyland was set up to produce buses and lorries for the local Asian market gaining full independence also in the mid 1980s. This company is the largest supplier of civillian and military vehicles in India and offers an impressive portfolio of all wheel drive vehicles with old Ford Cargo, Leyland Redline (Clydesdale Terrier) cabs and engines based on Cummins or former Leyland power units such as the 0.680 diesel.
Indian bus and truck maker Ashok Leyland is to take a 26 per cent stake worth about £4,8million in Optare as a part of long-term strategic co-operation between the two companies. The deal will help Ashok Leyland accelerate technology and new product development and attack new markets.
Optare expects to improve its competitiveness in the UK and export markets through access to Ashok Leyland’s lower-cost supply chain, co-operation in new product development and improved management of its working capital. Ashok Leyland will nominate two members to the board of Optare.
The agreement, together with the issue of additional share warrants, will provide Optare with around £5.5million in cash. Optare will use these funds to support investment in its global bus development programme, to further reduce both the whole life costs of its products and to reduce term debt by an additional £2million. Following completion of the agreed sale of Optare’s Rotherham site and this investment, the company’s term debt will reduce to less than £1.6million from £7.5million just 12 months ago.
Ashok Leyland is the market leader in buses in India and has been developing its bus business with purpose-built bus plants in Alwar in India and Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates and a new range of city buses and inter-city coaches. With the agreement, Ashok Leyland will have access to Optare’s technology, including a modern range of mid-size and full-size city buses which will appeal to global markets.
Ashok Leyland is part of the Hinduja Group, which has wide-ranging business interests in sectors including automotive, information technology, property, energy and banking. Ashok Leyland is the flagship of the Hinduja Group and in 2009-10 its turnover was around £1.0billion. In 2009 Optare had a turnover of almost £80 million.
Optare still operates from the former BL plant in Crossgates, Leeds with a smaller manufacturing unit and spares centre in Rotherham. Optare has been struggling financially in recent years so this news should come as some relief to the workers.
I wish them all the very best!