On this day : Government slammed by Ray Horrocks (1986)

On this day in 1986, the Austin Rover Group’s Chief Executive, Ray Horrocks, tells The Guardian’s Industrial Editor, Michael Smith, that the Government’s impending privatisation of the Group was being handled incredibly badly.  

Ray Horrocks

Horrocks holds the Government to account

The Government’s handling of the BL break up has again been bitterly attacked by Ray Horrocks, Chief Executive of Austin Rover.

Horrocks spoke last night of the “highly damaging uncertainty” caused by the privatisation programme in what amounts to his second public attack on the Government’s sell off plans. It was the second time this week that a top BL executive criticised the Government’s handling of the break up.

On Tuesday, Austin Rover Managing Director Mark Snowdon said the uncertainty had cost BL around 40,000 in lost car sales, worth around £200 million.

Damaging uncertainty

Speaking in Leeds last night Mr Horrocks returned to the attack by saying that more than anything BL now required “stability and above all time”.

Horrocks said that perhaps three or four years was needed for BL to acquire the “financial robustness without regular and highly damaging uncertainty about its immediate future.”

He went on: “This inability to recognise the damage being done to a company’s products and reputation – particularly in overseas markets – is to totally misunderstand the need for confidence within a highly competitive industry. That is why I called it a cruel and shameful persecution in evidence to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry the other week”, he said.

Failure in the wake of Ford misadventure

Horrocks’ criticism will inevitably provide fresh ammunition for opponents of the BL break up plan. He told MPs last month that he had been demoted by the Government after leading the opposition to earlier plans to sell Austin Rover to Ford of America.

In his speech last night Mr Horrocks also took a side swipe at Government industrial policies as a whole.

“We seem to be making very heavy weather of our industrial strategy to the point where it is pertinent to ask if, indeed, there is a cogent strategy beyond the political platitudes of the market place will determine or the service sector will provide,” he said.

Keith Adams


  1. Then as now a totally hopeless, clueless, incompetent, inept, lazy, bone-idle Tory government making it up as it went along and acting as a wrecking ball on UK industry and the economy.

    • Yeah because BL was in such great shape in 79 LOL. The Ryder Report was a masterpiece of Industrial Strategy.

      Tory scum should’ve never enticed Nissan to build Europe’s most efficient car plant in Sunderland, I mean in was Non-Unionized! I’m off now, tea break

      • People were queueing round the block at their local Austin Rover dealers to buy a Maestro and sales managers were trading in thousands of Cavaliers and Sierras for Montegos. Fact was, the cars were as reliable as a chocolate fireguard, buyers were staying away in droves as tales of the M cars unreliability came out, yet Horrocks and Austin Bide kept demanding more taxpayers money and the company might come right in four years. How many times had governments from the Wilson era onwards heard this from British Leyland.
        Best thing was when the company was sold off, it had to fight for its place in the market, and an outsider like Graham Day came in with new ideas. A slimmed down company with an accent on quality, niche products, a massive drive to improve quality and more collaboration with Honda was the result. It meant people actually wanted to buy Rover products and made the company profitable without having to run to the government.,

  2. I think the wrecking ball had arrived at British Leyland long before Mrs Thatcher and the company became notorious for industrial strife, uncompetitive products and inept management that was killing it in the seventies. Fair enough, the industrial strife had gone by 1986 and the company was making a more coherent range of products, but the quality was still terrible on some cars and the company was seeing its market share fall away. I doubt Mrs Thatcher could be blamed for the woes of the Austin Montego.
    The company only came good when Graham Day took over, people like Ray Horrocks were given their P45s( he believed the government should continue bailing out Austin Rover eternally) and Austin Rover was sold off. A slimmed down company without government subsidies worked as Rover underwent a huge revival in the late eighties and early nineties as exciting new products like the 200 were launched, quality massively improved and the company stopped being a national joke.

  3. Quote: “Horrocks said that perhaps three or four years was needed for BL to acquire the “financial robustness without regular and highly damaging uncertainty about its immediate future. He went on: “This inability to recognise the damage being done to a company’s products and reputation — particularly in overseas markets — is to totally misunderstand the need for confidence within a highly competitive industry.”

    Sadly, history repeated itself just over 12 years later when the renamed Austin Rover Group was under different ownership and facing a different set of challenges. No one seems to learn from previous mistakes in relation to the impact negative news such as this has on the public’s confidence in the company and its products.

  4. How did the Ford talks cost 40,000 sales?

    I could understand sales crashing if the company was about to collapse, as with the MGR failure, with people not wanting a “lame duck” car with no manufacturer support, but Ford weren’t buying ARG to immediately close it down. Even if ARG products got replaced with Ford derived ones, it’s not as if support for existing models would cease.

    Owners of GM era Vauxhalls aren’t left with worthless and unsupported cars, just because the new Vauxhalls are on Peugeot platforms now.

    • My brother used to own a Chevvy Lacetti Estate for work and managed to get repairs and service parts OK. Apparently many parts were same as the UK built Astra

  5. The reality was that Austin Rover by 1986 was a “dead man walking”, it was dead as a volume manufacturer when the Allegro failed in the market. The failure to replace the Ado16 with a product with its European market appeal, meant that BMC European dealer network was lost. After that they simply did not have the access to the markets to shift the “M Cars” in volumes sufficient to be able to compete with the other big European manufacturers.

    • @ Graham, Exports to Europe by the early eighties were minimal, with the biggest market, West Germany, being completely disinterested in what were seen as badly made and outdated cars. Mind you, I did see a German registered Austin Allegro in 1982 in Newcastle with a big bumper sticker stating Ich liebe Britische Autos, which proved a few Germans might have been tempted to buy a British cars and enjoy them.

      • Same I imagine with France, though an Allegro can be seen in the French film Diva.

        Smiley’s People features some LHD British cars in the Britsh Embassy fleet, which includes a Rover SD1 & Morris Ital, which I can’t imagine sold well in France.

        • @ Richarpd, the Mini was a consistent seller in France through the seventies and eighties as Parisians considered it an ideal city car and the Metro had a considerable following. The diesel Rover SD1 might have done almost nothing over here, but sold relatively well in France and Italy where diesel was cheaper and purchase tax was lower on bigger diesel cars. Remember,in France they had a socialistic type purchase tax on cars that hammered anything with a large engine and a petrol Rover SD1 or Jaguar would be clobbered by purchase tax.

          • Yes I knew Minis sold well in France for many years, & assumed the diesel SD1 would have been suitable for the European market with diesel being cheaper.

  6. Thing is had the Maestro and Montego not been badly built at the start, and developed properly, and less controversial in looks, European dealers would have come back to Austin Rover, as companies would always look to find the best next thing. But with the disaster of the M cars launches followed by the 800 just reiterated what the dealers thought, too much hassle, and probably turned to Japanese or Korean imports.

  7. Austin Rover would never crack the West German market, where buyers were the most affluent and demanding in the EEC and where imports only took 25% of the market as German cars were seen as far superior to anything else made in Europe, which to an extent was true. When I was last over there in 1988, I can’t remember seeing one British car, and of the imports, Japanese cars seemed quite common( probably due to the reliability and value for money), along with Volvos, SAABs, Peugeot 205s, Fiat Unos and Citroen BXs.

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