Archive : Britain – Wheels for the World

From TIME magazine
Friday, Aug. 09, 1963

When Britain’s Leyland Motor Corp. wanted to test one of its trucks, it sent its chief engineer on a grueling trip across the dry and dusty length of Iran. The truck broke down. Chastened, the engineer returned to England and designed a better truck. Such are the techniques that have made Leyland Britain’s biggest truckmaker and the world’s largest exporter of heavy commercial vehicles. So far this year, the company’s exports are running a remarkable 80% above last year. It ranks high among the firms contributing to a remarkable spurt in British exports, which rose to a record $966 million in June and are 6% above last year for 1963’s first half.

Triumph in the U.S. Founded in 1896 to build “steam wagons,” Midlands-based Leyland embraces 60 different companies, with 50,000 employees and 52 plants in 23 countries. Until two years ago, it concentrated chiefly on making big vehicles, including heavy trucks and London’s double-deck buses. Then it bought troubled Standard-Triumph, giving itself a line that now runs from sports cars to 200-ton earthmovers. Standard-Triumph lost Leyland $3,000,000 last year, but Leyland has now turned the company into a moneymaker. Helping out is the success of Triumph’s TR4 and Spitfire in the U.S., where Triumph has overtaken Renault as the second bestselling auto import, after Volkswagen. With Triumph healthy and truck exports soaring, Leyland’s 1963 figures should easily top last year’s net earnings of $8,900,000 on $504 million in sales.

Because of its own firm financial underpinnings—it has not had an unprofitable year since 1923 , Leyland has merged its way to bigness; in the past year alone, it acquired four bus-and truck-making competitors. In the process, it also acquired a new chairman: Sir William Black, 70, whose Associated Commercial Vehicles was taken over by Leyland last year. Sir William (he was knighted in 1958) intends to retain the individuality of the companies within Leyland and to encourage intramural competition for sales. He also is keen on preserving the down-to-earth atmosphere that pervades Leyland’s huge Lancashire plants. Says he: “Most of the executives started as apprentices on the shop floor, and we like to think that we could still do some of the jobs.”

Plants on the Continent. After developing huge production facilities for making Churchill and Centaur tanks during World War II, Leyland realized that postwar Britain would be too small a market for its potential output. The company began developing export markets more diligently than most British manufacturers, sent its top executives around the world to meet customers and learn the conditions under which Leyland trucks would operate. Even with sports cars, the company has kept its sharp eye for local conditions; when it learned that the average age of the U.S. buyers of its TR3 was 47, it decided to put roll-up windows and more comfortable seats in its new TR-4.

Probably the main reason for Leyland’s present export bonanza is that while most other British firms were blissfully contemplating Britain’s entry into the Common Market, Leyland was busy establishing assembly plants in Belgium and The Netherlands. When France blackballed Britain, Leyland was in a better position to compete on the Continent than most other British companies. It intends to keep right on pushing its advantage, plans to set up plants in West Germany and Italy soon.

Keith Adams

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.