A massive rescue operation carried out on British Leyland’s Austin Maxi car is paying off. Sales of the car dropped to less than 700 in December but are now approaching 3,500 a month,the highest since it was launched a year ago. When home market penetration figures for last month are published within the next few days they will show that the Maxi took something over 3 per cent and is now meeting its new sales targets.
In an interview yesterday Filmer Paradise, director of sales for the group’s Austin-Morris division, admitted that two mistakes were made when the Maxi was launched in April 1969. Its sales forecasts were much too optimistic for a new saloon-estate car concept in the £1,000 class and “it had some niggling faults”.
But, he said, the car had already been delayed for an extensive face lift. It missed Easter, the best time to introduce a new model, and could have missed Spring too if held back for more modifications. He stressed that the faults were not serious, some vibration, noise and sloppiness in the gear change. Mainly because the car had the most sustained Press build-up ever to precede a new British model; it sold well in its first month, taking 3.3 per cent of the home market.
Then it began to slide. In July it was 2.5 per cent, in September 2.2 per cent and by December was down to a disastrous 1.4 per cent, only 681 cars. Mr. Paradise said some motoring correspondents gave it a “drubbing” in their test reports. Worst of all from the company’s point of view, its distributors and dealers began to lose faith in the car.
“And any salesman who is not enthusiastic, is nothing. Something had to be done”, he declared. It was decided to take the unusual course of relaunching the Maxi. Work had continued non-stop on technical refinements and by the autumn modifications were being introduced to the assembly line at Cowley to isolate the causes of excessive vibration and make the gear change more positive. Sound deadening material was liberally applied. Beginning on December 17, Austin distributors were called to a series of conferences at Longbridge at which, according to Mr. Paradise, “everybody let their hair down. We approached them with stark realism and an acceptance of their problems in selling the Maxi.”
Twenty of the newly modified cars were handed over for trial runs. Great play was made by Mr. Paradise of two aspects. The first was that the warranty costs of the Maxi were the lowest of any car and it had ‘had a much better start in life than. the 1800 which had turned out to be a much sought-after car with sales outstepping production. Countrywide retraining of showroom salesmen was next. Distributors and, dealers were given financial incentives to put over 1500 demonstration models on the road.
In an unprecedented move for the company 1.5m. mail shots were sent out reminding would-be customers that, like the rest of the Austin-Morris front wheel models, the Maxi was the brainchild of Sir Alec Issigonis. But the most telling move was the decision to hold the Maxi price at £1,018 during the recent round of car price increases. This put a lot of heart into distributors who had complained that the Maxi was too expensive. Modified cars brought better test reports from the Press.
In February, market penetration was up to 2.2 per cent. March was 2.5 per cent. April was over 3 per cent and sales in the first half of this month indicate at least 3 per cent for the month as a whole.