Archive : How to build a Jaguar


With their £22.5 million order from America, Jaguar have what Sir William Lyons has called a once-for-all chance . But only if they can deliver on time, And while Lyons and his men are too tactful to say so. It is pretty clear that if they fail it will not be through any failing of theirs.

Those who know Browns Lane, Coventry, where they put Jags together as a labour of love, even on Sunday mornings if they have to, can well believe this , but Lyons , like everyone else in the motor industry, is perched on tho shoulder of a whole pyramid of suppliers. He can’t deliver the goods If they don’t. A fair slice of British industry as a whole works for the motor industry, in fact I.C.I are in it (paint , PVC seats, and metals). So are hordes of tiny firms in the jewellery district of Birmingham and ‘ the Black Country’.

Jaguar have one hundred main suppliers. Tyres from Dunlop, elelectrical equipment from Joseph Lucas. Glass from Triplex Holdings (a public Limb of the Pilkington private empire). Instruments from S. Smith & Sons, Carburettors from S.U., a B.M.C subsidiary. Prop shafts from Hardy Spicer , which are part of Birfield. Door handles and bumpers from Wilmot Breeden. Bodies, except for the E-type , from Pressed Steel. And so one could go on, with tho inevitability of the “cigarettes by Abdullah” in a theatre programme . The interesting thing is that all these Jaguar suppliers also supply the other two sports-car manufacturers who have just announced huge American orders- S.T.I, for £21.4 million , mostly TR.4s , and B.M.C. £32.8 million , largely of Healey’s, Sprite’s and M.G .s.

Not all components come inevitably from one source, of course. Take radiators , as one example out of thousands, Jaguar get theirs from Marston Excelsior of Leeds, an I.C.I subsidiary. S.T.I.’s come from Willenhall. Only an initiate from B.M.C, where they still answer the phone at headquarters as ‘Austin Motor’ nine years after the merger, could explain exactly they send their own radiators from Oxford to be completed at Coventry Radiator, a subsidiary of Associated Engineering, who then sell them to Austin. And to crown all, B.M.C. buy radiator grilles for some of thelr sports cars from Pianoforte Supplies in the depths of Northants. The component business is like that. It has sprouted luxuriantly since the war , so that even people who know plenty about British industry are unfamiliar with what have become important firms.

Some even confuse Birfleld (propellors, shafts, overdrives , axles and non-ferrous metals in that order) and Birmid (light castings and Marquess of Exeter, the hurdling Cecil who is chairman). It is not only Jaguar who is so precariously exposed if anything goes wrong at any of myrlad suppliers. For one thing, there are many monopolies or near monopolies. The Monopolies Commission are now in their fifth year of brooding on “the supply of electrical equipment for mechanically propelled land vehicles.” Naturally one cannot anticipate such deliberations, but it is a safe bet that the Commisslon will have spent some tlme on Lucas. But even where there is nothing like a monopoly, a manufacturer cannot switch over from one kind of equipment to another overnight . And his vulnerability has been increased by the trend to keep less and less capital tied up in stock of parts. Obviously it is easier and cheaper to carry blg stocks of some parts than of others. None of the car firms wants to get into the situation which is said to have killed Jowett, who had to depend on other people for thelr body pressings, a part whlch can add up to a third of the value of a car. So most of them now have their own body press shops, and only turn to Pressed Steel for part of their needs. You are dependent on your suppliers and managerial efficiency and their prices. A few key firms make all the difference. A large part of the whoIe European industry depends for engine shell bearings on Vandervell and Glacier Metal.

Lucas and Pressed Steel are two obvious key firms. Both incidentally have the banker Henry Tiarks of Schroeders on their board. This is a little out of character for Lucas, not a Mayfair outfit, but a big workaday business (38 million net assets and 55,000 employees in good times), with earnest, quite successful labour relations strong technical management, and a reputation for liking people who need their lamps to buy their Glrllng brakes as well. People wonder how they will fare against Germany’s brilliant Robert Bosch and Marchal of France in a Common Market.

A much smaller but crucial firm are Automotive Products, of Leamington, who make Borg and Beck clutches, which most British cars use, and Lockheed brakes under an American patent. Wilmot Breeden have come a long way from the Jewellry District where they started as silversmiths in 1927 before making bumpers for Morrris. They are still a family business run by two Breedens ; they have made a blg break into the French market. On firms like these and Blrfield’s Hardy-Splcer , and Associated Engineering, and on innumerable subsidiaries of G.K.N. , the motor industry depends. And above all it depends on thelr labour relations.

One glance at the list of Jaguar suppliers reminds any newspaper reader that these have been unhappy on the whole. In the last two years, Pressed Steel have had several strikes, the last five months ago when strike meetings were held in the office of the Swlndon branch of the Communist Party. Smiths, at Crlcklewood, struck this year, S.U. Carburettors ended a seven week strike, started by twenty one staff only month ago. Jaguar Mark 2’s are only just back in production as a result ; yet already another strike has started. Hardy-Spicer had two strikes last year, one over a dismissed shop steward; one over a swearword.

Those are the gloomy facts. Explanation and forecasting are not so straightforward. Some of the strlkes can be blamed on unimanginative management ; some really do seem to be caused by deliberate agitation. The background to all this trouble is a huge new labour force, sucked into the motor trade by high wages which are now showing their traditional fluctuations. The structure of the component pyramid means that a stupid Iabour officer, a red steward or a grievance that is allowed to run too long in any one of dozens of flrms, can cheat Sir William Lyons of his hopes. And then American college kids might ride in Porsches and Mercs for good.

Keith Adams

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