BY Clifford Webb
British Leyland yesterday announced a new range of trucks to head its drive into the European Economic Community. They are being manufactured at the group’s Bathgate, West Lothian plant, where additional labour is being recruited. The trucks will also be assembled at Malines, in Belgium later this year. The new Leyland Redline models cover the 3.5 to 28-ton gross weight market for operators. on short and medium-haul routes.
The need here is for a cheaper truck averaging some 50,000 miles a year compared with the 100,000 miles achieved by the more expensive “premium” trucks normally associated with Leyland. It is in the cheaper section of the market that British Leyland hopes to make a large impact on the Continent. Manufacturers there have tended to concentrate on “premium” trucks.
To woo the drivers the new trucks are equipped with a cab styled by Michelotti, the Italian design consultant, better known for his work on cars. A range of four and six-cylinder diesel engines gives 10 per cent more power than the old Redline series. Extensive testing overseas has also indicated a longer life and lower fuel consumption. The engines were designed for manufacture on existing machinery at Bathgate.
Mr Ron Ellis, managing director of British Leyland’s truck and bus division, said last night: “When we took over the existing BMC plant at Bathgate some four years ago our immediate problem was to improve the quality and reliability of the trucks there which quite frankly were just not good enough. Today Bathgate trucks, are acceptable against the best competition. We believe the new range will make the Continentals sit up. They just do not make trucks of that price or quality. We already have 360 European service outlets for our spares.”
Progress would be made slowly and carefully.
“We cannot afford to put too many trucks into Europe without adequate service arrangements. Bad reports could set us back years.”
The present 22 per cent tariff on truck imports into EEC countries will be reduced to 17.6 per cent next April and progressively after that until it reaches zero on January 1, 1977. Despite its poor labour relations record Bathgate has been given a big role in truck output. It already accounts for half of British Leyland’s production.
The labour force of 4,000 is producing around 500 trucks a week but is only working at half capacity. Mr Ellis believes that with 20 per cent more workers he can double Bathgate production. Limited recruitment is under way but is being restricted, because of the still far from buoyant conditions in the United Kingdom truck market. It was thought that improved buying in early summer heralded a general recovery from the depressed conditions of the past two years. But as Mr Ellis put it: “We are not sure now. Sales are beginning to shudder again.”
Transport drivers at British Leyland. Longbridge, voted last night to resume work on Monday. Their walk-out two days ago stopped car assembly on Wednesday, and yesterday the effects spread to Cowley. Nearly 9,000 men are laid off at Longbridge and 800 at Cowley. A further 1,700 have been sent home from the body plant at Castle Bromwich. The dispute began when forklift truck drivers walked, out over a job regrading claim which would increase their pay by £1 a week.