MARY FAGAN, Industrial Correspondent
LAND ROVER was inundated with telephone calls from job-seekers yesterday following an announcement that it will invest pounds 68m at its factory in Solihull to meet soaring demand. Production of the Land Rover Discovery is to be increased by 20 per cent by next spring to 1,500 vehicles a week, from 1,250 now. It was raised from 1,050 last year.
The company said that while the aim was to increase efficiency, there would be more jobs at the plant.
Figures released yesterday showed that sales in the US of Land Rover’s vehicles increased by 300 per cent in June to 1,467 from 368 in the same period last year. The Discovery, launched in the US in April, accounted for 937 of the units sold, with the Range Rover and Land Rover Defender making up the remainder.
A spokesman for the company said that in the first half of the year, 4,503 vehicles were sold in the US market, including more than 2,000 of the Discovery. The sales volumes in the six months to 30 June were almost as much as in the whole of 1993.
The investment at Solihull will expand engine, transmission and vehicle assembly facilities. There is little automation at the factory, with each vehicle practically hand- built, a spokesman said.
The success of the Discovery, launched in October 1989, has already resulted in the introduction of a night shift. The company said it could increase to three shifts, but without new investment it would have trouble meeting demand for engines and other components.
A spokesman said: ‘If there is a mathematical progression of the sales record so far then we need the flexibility to be able to respond.’ He said that the expansion work would be carried out during the normal summer shutdown period to avoid disrupting production.
Since the launch of the Discovery, employment at the Solihull plant has risen from 8,100 to 9,700. Shortly after word of the investment broke on local radio, calls from would-be employees were coming in at one every one-and-a- half minutes, the spokesman said.
The demand for Land Rover vehicles helped the Rover automotive group to increase production by 26 per cent in the first quarter of this year, while overall car production in the UK fell by 0.5 per cent.
Land Rover said the spending plans at Solihull were made long before the controversial pounds 800m takeover of the Rover group by BMW of Germany from British Aerospace earlier this year.