By Clifford Webb
British Leyland are giving priority to the expansion of their profitable Rover-Triumph executive and sports car division. In a major reassessment of their £500m investment plans a number of projects have been put back, but no – less than £180m has been earmarked for Rover-Triumph over the next three years. At Solihull, Warwickshire, work is well advanced on the first new car factory to be built by the group since its formation nearly six years ago. It should be in production by autumn 1975 and with similar expansion at Triumph Liverpool and Triumph Coventry will double Rover-Triumph production from 5,000 to 10,000 cars a week by 1977.
Mr Bernard Jackman, managing director of Rover-Triumph said: “On the Triumph scene some £30m worth of expenditure is planned at Liverpool and supporting factories in Coventry. The whole of this sum has been committed and about half has already been spent. At Rover some £50m worth of expansion is envisaged at Solihull and supply factories in Birmingham and Cardiff. The bulk of this money has already been committed but only a relatively small amount has actually been spent at this point in time.”
The present model lineup is being drastically reduced. By 1978 the intention is to have four basic models, two sports cars and two executive saloons with the usual variants. The labour force of 32,000 produces some, 200,000 cars a year, although there is nominal capacity for 280,000.
The intention is to double production with a minimal addition to the pay roll. It is expected that only 2,000 more workers will be required for the new Rover factory at Solihull which will have three assembly lines and a capacity of 3,000 cars a week. Although there is no official confirmation the plan for Triumph seems to call for the Coventry factories to concentrate on engines, gearboxes and saloons while complete sports cars will be assembled at Liverpool. Although some publicity has been given to the new Solihull factory the extent of the project and its implications for British Leyland profits have not been generally appreciated.
Fears that demand for cars over 1-5 litres would fall sharply due to soaring petrol prices have not materialized. There is growing evidence to suggest that the Rover-Triumph range of executive cars has benefited from a movement down the market from larger, high powered prestige cars. Rover-Triumph are already the biggest profit earners in British Leyland, some sources suggest that they account for one third of group profits.
But the best selling Rover 2200 is based on a 10 years old design and cannot hold its place in the market for much longer. Given the impetus of new models in the pipeline and much increased production capacity they could substantially improve their share of the market and make further inroads into Europe.