On this day : Leyland Trucks at a crossroads

On this day in 1984, The Guardian’s Clifford Webb took a closer look at Leyland Trucks and concluded that the former powerhouse of the UK’s commercial vehicle industry was in grave peril.

Bathgate was for planned for the chop, but he argued that its closure would need to be accelerated, or else it could bring down the entire company.

Bathgate closure: implications for Leyland

Leyland Terrier

The collapse of Leyland’s once profitable lorry business has been so damaging that some experts believe that any further delay in the planned closure of its plant at Bathgate, Scotland, could pull down the company. They believe phasing out Bathgate over the next two years is not quick enough and the decision has been delayed too long.

Leyland has lost £214m in the past two years. Its market share has fallen from about 30% and clear market leadership in the early 1970s to a disastrous 13.4% cent in 1982.

It reversed the trend last year, to 14.5%, as new models made their presence felt. That share compares with 19% for Ford and Mercedes’ 9.3%, although the German company is a relative newcomer.

How low can it go?

Leyland production has fallen consistently, from 40,000 lorries a year in the early 1970s to 11,000 last year. It is hoped to increase that to 12,000 this year as British demand improves slowly.

Leyland is not alone in its fight for survival. For the past three years European lorry markets have had their worst recession, with sales halved in many countries. In past home market recessions. Leyland has relied on its traditional exports to the Commonwealth.

Hitting the economic skids

In 1979, it exported more than 10,000 lorries a year. But over the past 18 months these mainly developing countries have run into economic trouble.

The Leyland labour force has been reduced from 29,000 in the late 1970s to 14,500 with 1800 more to go at Bathgate. In the past three years. Leyland has introduced seven lorries, but a key replacement is missing.

The MT211 to be launched late this year, will replace the outdated Terrier (above and below) in the lightweight sector, which accounts for 30% of British sales.

Leyland Terrier

Keith Adams


  1. With the benefit of hindsight, were there any better alternative sites for BMC’s lorries division they could have moved to in place of Bathgate?

    • Bathgate was actually initiated as a plant for BMC’s Nuffield Tractor business to release space at Cowley, opening in 1962 the intention when it was created that like Linwood, component manufacturers etc would also move to the region to support these modern “highly efficient” factories. Problem was the factories for numerous reasons never delivered the needed productivity to make them viable and so they failed to attract either subsequent investment or suppliers to the region and plants such as Bathgate kept on life support by the politicians concerned about the regions unemployment.

      • Looking back, what would have been a better approach to building new plants in regions outside of the country’s automotive heartland?

        In place of the domestic UK automotive manufacturers being pressured to move, could other industries or even non-UK companies have been incentivized to set up shop in those regions as would be the case later on?

  2. Remember this time well. The workers restored and raffled a MG Midget to raise funds in support of those made redundant. Recall it being finished in a rather curious shade of green that seemed more suited to a Ransome lawnmower than any MG I’d seen. Otherwise it looked to be fine car. No idea what ever became of it. In my subsequent time as a registered nurse in the local psychiatric hospital, I met a number of male nursing auxiliaries who had been paid off when Bathgate closed.

  3. Apart from anything else, it would make no sense to invest in the modern and capacious Leyland Assembly Plant, while still keeping open older and remote factories, if you don’t need the capacity.

  4. Linwood had a similar problem, it was too remote from Peugeot Talbot’s core business in Coventry and France and was making cars that were falling in popularity. The decision to close Linwood, which was losing money, probably saved the core factories in Coventry that moved over to producing Peugeots and survived until 2007.

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