In an exclusive and far-reaching interview published in Motor Transport, Lord Stokes, Chairman of British Leyland, has spoken his mind on many topics vitally affecting the future of his company, and of the country.
This summary first appeared in Autocar, 28 September 1972.
Published on the eve of the Commercial Motor Show, the interview will be of interest to many for the parallels to be drawn with the world of motoring.
Lord Stokes says that Britain’s road freight-transport system is the most efficient in Europe and any attempt to divert freight transport away from the roads would do immeasurable harm to the economy by increasing transport costs and reducing flexibility.
He argues, some would say short-sightedly, that rail or inland waterway transport systems have neither the capacity nor the flexibility to deal with the bulk of freight traffic handled by road transport, and are uneconomical over short distances.
What’s the alternative to HGVs? Should there be one?
Surely, while this is true for the present, alternative forms of transport should not be dismissed by Lord Stokes? The more the heavy lorries thunder on to our overcrowded roads, the more untenable the roads become for the private car owner, who in his way can contribute just as significantly to British Leyland’s success and profits by the purchase of his car.
Lord Stokes also disappoints, again in the commercial field, in his views on the preservation of the environment. ‘We accept fully that it is necessary to improve or preserve the environment, and intensive research and development programmes on noise, air pollution and safety are being undertaken.’ he says.
So far so good. But he goes on, ‘It is, however, impossible for one manufacturer to go it alone in introducing higher standards of noise prevention. emission control and safety, as the price of the vehicles would become uncompetitive. We therefore work to the standards laid down by the legislators and we discuss new regulations with the appropriate Government bodies.’
Cost before the environment
This goes to infer that, given the choice between a noisy, smelly. vibrating truck and a quiet, emission-controlled, safe truck costing more, the operator would choose the cheaper one. Which in turn, infers a degree of irresponsibility towards the environment on the part of lorry operators which can only disturb the motorist.
Lord Stokes is also in favour of heavier lorries on our roads. The technical regulations for Europe and Britain should be harmonized, to allow the production of standardized vehicles with better standard equipment.
He dismisses the argument that the present EEC constructional regulations, designed as they are for huge lorries to operate in the wide-open. long-distance routes of the Continent, should not be applied here. An increase in overall weight, he says, is unlikely to cause an increase in overall dimensions; and power-to-weight regulations indicate that trucks will have a better performance and thus reduce traffic congestion.
Stokes against European regulation
Perhaps he will ask those living near the routes from the container ports to bear that in mind. Lord Stokes also accuses Sweden of using safety regulations to protect their home market. He says that the law in Sweden virtually excludes foreign vehicles from the home market, and that Swedish lorries are sold in the UK at prices about 20 per cent under their home price because of this protection.
These laws he refers to are in fact regulations demanding that cabs must be made of steel and withstand, among other things, a 16-ton impact on the roof. This ensures the safety and, in many cases the life, of the driver. The other main regulation is the exhaust emission control applied to Swedish lorries which ensures the minimum of black smoke.
On another tack, Lord Stokes speaks of the gas turbine engine and reveals that British Leyland is well ahead of Europe. Three vehicles are being operated experimentally at the moment with big fleet users. Driver reports, he says. are magnificent.
No gas turbines for the road
There is little likelihood of an application to road passenger vehicles, he says, in the immediate future, but there is no reason why the turbine should not be applied ultimately to the long-distance coach which does most of its mileage on the motorways.
‘It is apparent that our entry to the EEC will provide us with a large tariff-free home market. Conversely, the British market is likely to grow comparatively little in the next eight years.’ – Lord Stokes
‘The resurgence of interest in the United States in British-style public service vehicles opens up the opportunity for selling buses in large numbers, and we are actively pursuing a contract for double-deckers in New York and a number of single-deck bus projects. In the Leyland National we have the most advanced passenger vehicle in the world and we believe it provides the solution to the problems of public service vehicle operators all over the world.’
Lord Stokes went on. ‘It is apparent that our entry to the EEC will provide us with a large tariff-free home market. Conversely, the British market is likely to grow comparatively little in the next eight years and, providing we can maintain our share of the UK market, we shall benefit from the expanding European tariff-free market. By selling effectively in Europe, we shall also erode the profitable home market bases of European manufacturers, thus making it more difficult for them to compete in our traditional export markets.’