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The MT211 to be launched late this year, will replace the outdated Terrier (above and below) in the lightweight sector, which accounts for 30% of British sales.