By Clifford Webb Midland Industrial Correspondent
British Leyland is seeking planning permission to build an engine factory costing an estimated £15m at Longbridge, near Birmingham, the group’s biggest car manufacturing complex. The Department of Trade and Industry has already granted an industrial development certificate for the project.
To make way for the 750ft- long building it will be necessary to demolish part of the existing 300,000 sq ft North Works which produces the B series engines fitted in the Austin and Morris 1800 models, and more powerful versions of the Morris Marina. North Works, one of the oldest in the group, was Herbert Austin’s original engine factory. This is the first news of the site chosen by British Leyland to produce one of the four advanced car engines foreshadowed by Lord Stokes, BLMC chairman, two months ago.
At that time he disclosed plans for the largest expansion programme ever undertaken in the British motor industry, calling for an estimated £400m to £500m over the next five years. He said a substantial part of the money would be devoted to the production of new engines. No official figures are available for the overall cost, of designing the engines, tooling and installing the huge in-line transfer machines needed for mass production of the engines.
Industry sources suggest however that at least £60m will have to be earmarked. In addition a new aluminium foundry is planned to integrate engine building still further. It is understood that tooling will soon be ordered for the first of the new engines, described by Lord Stokes as “of an exciting specification and incorporating increased amounts of aluminium alloy as an aid to meeting present and future exhaust pollution laws”.
The absence of new engines, particularly one suitable for small cars such as the Mini, has handicapped British Leyland’s attempts to build up its European sales. The Morris Marina and the more recently announced Austin Allegro, the two models which carry the group’s hopes in the popular saloon market, are mainly powered by A and B series engines, first seen more than 10 years ago.
Some versions of the Allegro use the five year-old E series engine but the output of this unit has been disappointing and its development painfully slow. All the existing engines were designed, and with the exception of the remarkable Jaguar V-12 and Triumph Dolomite Sprint power units, in production before British Leyland was formed in 1968. Since then there have been notable advances in engine design by French, German, Italian and Japanese competitors.
The introduction of a completely new family of engines is an extremely costly business and one that has been plagued by the stringent United States anti-pollution targets set for 1976. The vast sums spent by the world’s motor industry on researching this problem have cut deep into investment budgets. Now however the situation has been considerably eased by the American Environmental Protection Agency’s belated admission that so far as nitrous oxide pollution is concerned it had set its sights too high.
But the announcement most eagerly awaited remains the choice of site for the new totally integrated car plant which Lord Stokes revealed would probably be built “away from the corporation’s traditional areas of car manufacture”.