By Clifford Webb
British Leyland is taking advantage of the present widespread lay-offs and shut-downs in its car assembly plants to speed up work on the new Marina, to transfer the TR7 sports car from Triumph Canley, to Rover, Solihull, and to switch production of the facelifted Rover saloon body from Castle Bromwich to Cowley.
A BL spokesman said yesterday: “Although we would rather that market demand for our cars had held up sufficiently for us to have avoided lay-offs, we are taking advantage of the present shut-downs to speed up new model work. Our facility engineers can do a much better job when they are not having to compete with the need to maintain production schedules.”
It is understood that production of the existing Marina body will not be resumed at Pressed Steel Fisher, Cowley. New tooling is now being installed for the face-lifted Marina which features an extensively redesigned nose containing wrap-around headlights, and a rear which is said to resemble the latest BMW. The 6,000 workers laid off at Cowley will return in a fortnight to complete the “run- out” of the old Marina. They will then probably be laid off for a further fortnight until Easter. After Easter, they will return to work on the new Marina.
Triumph, Canley, is due for closure under the Edwardes’ recovery plan which calls for 25,000 redundancies and the whole or partial closure of 13 plants. The TR7 sports car is being transferred from Canley to Rover’s modern assemblv plant at Solihull, where it will be produced alongside the SD1 saloon series. The Triumph Spitfire is in the final stages of its “run-out” at Canley, but the Dolomite will continue in production until the Honda Bounty replaces it next year.
Work has begun on the TR7 switch, but there will not be a clean break. Production will continue at both plants for several months to ensure that TR7 dealers, particularly those in the United States, do not have to suffer another period without cars. BL has bitter memories of the havoc created in the American market by the nine month break in TR7 production which followed the closure of the Speke plant in 1978, and the model’s move to Canley. Another plant due for closure, the Castle Bromwich body plant, was originally intended to produce the face-lift for the Rover SD1 replacement due out later this year.
This work is now being transferred to Cowley body, which has surplus capacity. With an estimated 80,000 cars stockpiled in dealers’ showrooms, on factory roads, and in adjoining fields, BL does not have to worry about production being affected by such extensive realignment.
Leyland Vehicles achieved £80m record sales in January, with February likely to be an even better month. The factories which turn out the buses, trucks and allied vehicles and equipment achieved the figure with a slimmer work force, Mr David Abell, chairman and managing director, said. Mr Abell was speaking at a preview of Leyland’s new flagship, the T45 truck. The truck will be assembled at Leyland, Lancashire, in a £32m assembly hall.