By Edward Townsend
BL’s controversial £2m “Buy British” campaign, initially aimed at new car buyers, has now been directed at dealers. The company is trying to tempt new dealers, including those selling imported cars, into the BL fold. BL, which already has the largest car dealer network in the country, is clearly keen to stem the defections from its ranks of dissatisfied dealers as well as to boost the confidence of others and expand into areas where it does not have sales outlets. The first hint of a new dealership drive came last night from Mr Tony Ball, managing director of BL European and Overseas Operations and the company’s top salesman, during a speech at a Motor Agents’ Association dinner in Manchester.
He said “BL wants to back Britain’s motor trade. But if you, the trade, want to buy British, come and talk to us and that invitation is equally extended to those at present holding an importer’s franchise.”
The company was already well served in many areas, he said; but there were other places, particularly in the rural communities, where they might not be fully represented. Calling on the car trade to join BL “to see if we can help each other “, Mr Ball added: “We are determined that the British motor industry will prosper again. The great fight back is now under way.”
Last year, BL lost more than 90 out of a total of 2,000 dealers, many of them taking on franchises for European groups. Companies such as Volkswagen, Peugeot and, in particular, Renault, have been attempting with some success to increase their United Kingdom dealer chains. In some cases, the big dealerships have tried to cushion the effects of any further deterioration of BL sales by converting a few of their showrooms to sell foreign cars.
It is this dual franchising that BL now wants to stamp out. BL will be telling dealers that it has votes of confidence from its workforce and the Government, is hoping for one from the car buying public and now wants backing from an optimistic and expanding sales network. Car dealers generally have had a lean time in recent months. Despite record new car sales for 1979, high interest rates began to hit the trade in the autumn and to maintain cash flow, many dealers have been selling at big discounts.
A close observer of the trade said yesterday: “It is vital that BL maintains a strong, efficient and powerful dealer network. But flag waving patriotism is not necessarily the way in which BL will get out of its, problems. If you attack a customer’s choice, he will defend it.”
Aston Martin deal for MG falls through
BL chief Sir Michael Edwardes has lost Patience with Aston Martin’s much delayed bid to acquire his MG plant at Abingdon. Reliable sources report that he has given Alan Curtis, Aston Martin’s managing director, until Friday to produce a detailed offer or forget it. In the meantime Sir Michael is going ahead with plans for Abingdon. and yesterday appointed a new boss to look after the conversion of the plant into the new home for BL’s “knocked down” department, kits for overseas assembly plants, the manufacture of specialist or custom-built cars, engine tuning and motor sports.
He is Alan Edis , 39, the present head of Cowley CKD and former business and product planning director of Jaguar Rover Triumph. His present Cowley premises must be cleared to make way for the Honda, Bounty. It is understood that Sir Michael considers that the Aston Martin delay is now so serious that it is threatening next year’s launch date of the Bounty. If the deal falls through, however, it could prove embarrassing.
The grapevine has it that Curtis will then publish figures showing just how profitable Abingdon was.