By Clifford Webb
Two years ago, when British Leyland introduced the Morris Marina, there were a lot of disappointed motorists around. They expected something more exciting from the stable which gave birth to the now almost legendary Issigonis Mini.
Yet here was a traditionally engineered family saloon with the simplest of suspensions and the engine at the front driving rear wheels via a propshaft. Today the doubters readily admit they were wrong. Not only has the Marina sold well but it has enabled British Leyland to enter new sectors of the market, the big boot, four-five seater, cheap saloon and, most important of all, fleet sales.
While the Marina was creeping up to 8 per cent market penetration, however, the 10 year-old 1100/1300 range, the logical development of the Mini , was fast running out of steam. A replacement was urgently needed. Yesterday British Leyland unveiled its successor, the Allegro, and with it, have indeed returned to the Issigonis theme of front wheel drive, sophisticated suspension and a wheel at each corner.
Side by side with, the Marina, the Allegro is planned to capture some 8 to 10 per cent of the United Kingdom market. The two should thus account for 16 to 18 per cent and firmly bracket the key C or medium car sector which forms a solid 60 per cent of all cars sold in Europe. The Allegro also provides the group’s 2,000 Austin dealers with the high volume front runner they have lacked for so long. To some extent it will provide competition for the Morris Marina in pricing if not specification but either way
‘it keeps the trade in the family’, as Mr Filmer Paradise, Austin-Morris director of sales, puts it. the Allegro is being built at Longbridge, the traditional home of Austin cars.
The production build up has gone smoothly and is now running at some 1,100 to 1,200 cars a week. This has enabled Austin-Morris to accumulate a stockpile of around 10,000 cars to give the Allegro the best launch of any British Leyland new car to date.
One of the two 1100/1300 assembly tracks at Longbridge has been converted to Allegro production. When this reaches 2,500 a week the second line will be changed over. By early next year the company hope to be producing in excess of 4,000 Allegros a week. It is impossible to over emphasize the importance of Allegro to the fortunes of British Leyland. The C class sector now accounts for something like one million sales a year in Britain. Two years ago Austin-Morris were taking up to 30 per cent of this class.
By March, 1972, they were down to 23 per cent and in the first three months of this year had fallen to only 18 per cent. This decline was due largely to falling demand for the 1100/1300 although inability to produce sufficient cars in boom conditions was a considerable contributing factor. Since the early 1960s the older model has been the backbone of Austin-Morris. Worldwide sales have exceeded 2.3m of which 1.3m were sold in the United Kingdom. It has been United Kingdom market leader for seven of the 10 years since’ it was launched and for eight consecutive years held more than 10 per cent penetration. But during the past two years demand has become more concentrated on the top end of the C class sector with motorists insisting on 1500cc engines and above. At the same time they want higher standards of trim, increased passenger and luggage space, improved driving position and reduced noise levels.
Despite umpteen facelifts the 10-year-old 1100/1300 was unable to meet these changing fashions. The Allegro has been designed to cover all these requirements and more. With engines from 1100cc to 1750cc , and even more powerful ones hinted at, the 12 versions enable British Leyland to span more of the market with a single basic model than any of its home and overseas competitors. The addition of a five-door estate car variant is also on the cards. Mr George Turnbull, managing director of British Leyland, says: ‘We have tried with the Allegro to be all things to all men. That is a tremendous brief for our engineers but we believe we have succeeded. The C sector is expanding all the time and with this approach we are spanning the widest area of that sector with the minimum investment.’
Allegro represents an investment of £25m, of which £16m has been spent at Longbridge on extending and modernizing production facilities. Two thousand more workers are being recruited by the end of the year. But, without doubt, the most important factor in determining the profitability of Allegro will be the successful campaign conducted at Longbridge throughout 1972 to get rid of strike prone piecework. Like the Marina, the Allegro is being produced by the flat rate system of payment and the sharp reduction in the number of strikes at Cowley has shown how imperative was the need for such a change at Longbridge.
One of the major weaknesses at Austin-Morris (and its predecessor, BMC) has been the failure to control costs during the development of new models. Target selling prices have constantly drifted upwards with the result that hasty economies have had to be introduced to the detriment of ultimate specification. This time, Mr Turnbull insists, the Allegro has been kept on- target at every stage of its development. This is the direct result of the work of a department created in 1969 following the arrival of Mr Desmond North, a former Ford and Chrysler cost control specialist. Soon after Marina was launched, Mr North was reported as saying: ‘We are aiming at 90 per cent of Ford’s efficiency with 50 per cent of the people.’
Allegro has been conceived as a truly European car. As soon as possible it will be assembled at Seneffe in Belgium, British Leyland’s major European plant. No firm decision has yet been taken to produce it at British Leyland Innocenti in Italy or British Leyland Authi in Spain but I understand such moves are only a question of timing and the availability of components.
Austin Allegro Launch
By Patrick Mennem
Four years and £21,000,000 have been spent on producing the Allegro models, which range in price from £974 to £1,367. They are aimed at the markets of Europe, and one man who is sure of their success is American- born Filmer Paradise , director of sales at the Austin-Morris Division. ‘It is going to be a piece of cake—of all the cars I’ve sold this is going to be the easiest,’ he said.
‘It is the size the Europeans want it has front-wheel drive, which they want, it’s got the right shape and styling, it’s got the right spares and parts back-up and it’s the right price.’
Filmer told me that British dealers already have 8,000 Allegros and within a week there would be 12,000.