By Clifford Webb
The demand for BL’s Metro car is so great that Sir Michael Edwardes, the BL chairman, now proposes to use the whole Longbridge plant for its production along with the older Mini. This is a last-minute change in the business plan submitted to the Government on Monday to enable BL to increase the Metro’s production target of 6,500 vehicles a week. Originally BL planned to divide Longbridge capacity between the two small cars and the LC10, the new medium saloon scheduled for launching in 1982/3.
The bigger, and potentially more profitable, LC10 is now being switched to Cowley. At present, the Mini and Metro are both assembled in Car Assembly Building 1 (CAB 1) while the Allegro is produced in CAB 2. It was intended to phase out the Allegro, never a good seller, over the next two years and to use CAB 2 for the LC10.
Allegro production is only about 1,200 a week, but CAB 2 has a nominal capacity for at least twice that which could be increased still further with modernization. A target of 8,000 Metros a week could be reached by using both buildings. With extensive new machinery still being “worked up “, current output is only 2,500 a week. Although the Metro has been on sale for only two weeks, it is already taking 4 per cent of the United Kingdom market. It had been feared that the advent of a new small car would substantially reduce sales of the older Mini.
These fears appear to be groundless with the Mini taking 5 per cent of market share this month. Together with improved demand for the Ital they have boosted BL’s total market penetration to more than 23 per cent.
The LC10 is intended as a replacement for the Maxi with another model, the AM2 replacing the Ital. Both the existing cars, together with the Princess, are produced at Cowley. Until the last-minute switch it had been intended that Cowley should concentrate on the Bounty, the Honda-BL car which is scheduled for next September and a much redesigned Princess.
Bounty production will be relatively small, fewer than 2,000 a week and even if the new Princess proves to be a winner, the two will not make full use of Cowley’s installed capacity of 6,200 cars a week. By adding the LC10, BL will also be able to take advantage of the new £50m paint plant being built at Cowley for the Bounty.
Meanwhile, the overtime ban by white-collar workers which has threatened Metro output for the past two weeks could be withdrawn today. At a secret meeting in Coventry on Monday, BL management agreed to extend for another six weeks the deadline for implementing 3,300 redundancies on top of the 900 for men who have already volunteered to go. The union leaders were expected to recommend to a delegate conference today to lift the overtime ban. However, if the delay fails to produce sufficient volunteers, BL has said that it will proceed with compulsory redundancies to achieve 4,200 cuts by March 31.
BL management was yesterday hurriedly issuing a leaflet for delivery to all 73000 manual workers to explain its 6.8 per cent “final” pay offer. It wants to make the issues clear before tomorrow’s mass meeting in all plants to vote on a shop a strike.