Archive : Sir Donald charts the route

Today the new British Leyland Motor Corporation officially takes its place among the world’s car giants. GEOFFREY CHARLES, Motoring Correspondeht, and ROBERT JONES talked to Sir Donald Stokes, BLMC’s chief executive, about his plans for Britain’s biggest car-maker.

Sir Donald Stokes
Sir Donald Stokes

We were left in no doubt after our interview that British Leyland’s top priority is product policy. A reappraisal has in fact already been carried out and a completely new policy implemented for the next four years- a major operation which has taken just three weeks.

Of the general progress of the merger, Sir Donald Stokes declared: ‘I am very optimistic. I feel we have done the right thing. I am not a shut-down man. I’m really an expansionist. I do not think you can stand still you have got to expand in any industry today.’

The corporation’s 54 special study groups have now produced their reports.

‘We have learned a tremendous amount from them about the organization and have some good recommendations and comments from our staff ‘, Sir Donald told us.

‘Both sides have been surprised to learn so much about their own business. Now we have to digest that and we are going to implement quite a lot of things.’

The main result of these studies will be the establishment of seven key divisions within British Leyland. responsible for

  1. volume car and light commercial vehicles;
  2. Pressed Steel Fisher;
  3. trucks and buses;
  4. specialist cars (embraceing Jaguar, Rover and Triumph but retaining their separate idenitities)
  5. general engineering and foundries;
  6. construction equipment;
  7. overseas rnanufacturing interests.

‘Seven is a lucky number and I am sure it is right.’

Each division will operate as a profit-making unit, with, eventually, an executive line management of seven, responsible directly to Sir Donald as managing director. Viewed against the world’s other top car-makers, he believes British Leyland will apply the best techniques of General Motors, Ford, Fiat, and the rest – ‘ but we are not copying any overseas manufacturer. BLMC have a very real problem in streamlining a conglomeration of excellent British companies and this is not the final organization we will evolve for the group.’

Sir Donald is going to concentrate on getting the new model policy right. ‘There is no sense whatever in saying we shall stop this or that model because it competes with another. We do not save money by chopping off current production models. But we shall apply streamlining and simplification of ranges to our forward planning. All our future models must have an international appeal.’

Even so he would be happy to see some overlaps in each part of their range, Triumph And Rover being good examples of cars that could be complementary but competitive. Within both BMC and Triumph he sees ‘marvellous facilities’ for production, especially at BMC, and much has already been achieved in effectively setting up a management policy committee at BMC-the key structure of the group-which is facilitating quick management decisions.

‘I would emphasize that we have found enormous cooperation and enthusiasm on both sides’, Sir Donald said.

‘There is a willingness to get up and go-very fast. The merger has given both sides a shot in the arm and they see that they have something with which to challenge world competition.’

On styling and coordination of general ideas he does not agree that the group needs an overall styling policy. And on the ‘individuality’ of the Rover and Jaguar range: ‘it would be foolish to lose this, or such valuable names. We have some very gifted engineers in the group who have individual ideas and they will be allowed to develop them.’

Top priorities for the new corporation’s rationalization of models lies, he said, in volume car production, but he is confident that there is still money to be made in the specialist car field. In due course British Leyland will rationalize engines too. At the present stage in the mass production range, there is still some problem in choosing a suitable name that could embrace perhaps all the models for the popular markets- one that could include Riley, Wolseley, Austin, MG.

Sir Donald said that his recent world tour of the corporation’s main overseas markets underlined the necessity for getting together. He sees advantages for the merger in every market, but particularly in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Europe as a whole, although here the effect will take more time. But both assembly plants in Belgium will be used to the full, each producing around 18,000 cars a year.

‘In all these markets you can say we have arrarged to get a lot of integration.’

Van production will remain at Longbridge, with one big diesel engine centre at Leyland, and in the Midlands an engineering centre for styling and automobile engineering. On the question of redundancies, Sir Donald treads cautiously.

‘What we are trying to do is to examine all the facilities and plant that we have. Obviously there is going to be some reshuffling and readjustment. But where we decide it will be necessary to do something or streamline anything, we will consult the people concerned in advance.

‘Obviously we are going to do some streamlining but it will involve nothing like the exaggerated figures which have been flying around and which have been very irresponsible.’

There are no plans, it appears, for cutting back or expanding participation in motor sport within the group, currently confined to BMC although Jaguar is known to have had plans for a return to sports car racing.

‘I am very interested in rallies and motor sport’, said Sir Donald. ‘if we can win.’

Summing up the task before British Leyland he told us:  ‘We want to have all our various plants making more and more of the same sort of thing. This will give us economies in production. Getting the products right is priority number one. Secondly we have to get on with the marketing, then backing all that up, we have to get our production facilities right. Any benefits the group will get must take two or three years to materialize.’

In the motor industrys world-wide sales battle he still saw the main opposition coming from America, though perhaps later from Japan.

‘But if we could stop these sporadic strikes in this country we could kill the entire opposition. To begin with, we have got to make management right’.

Keith Adams

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