MY STAKE IN YOUR TOMORROW By Lord Stokes
As a massive act of faith In Britain, Lord Stokes yesterday committed himself to the biggest Industrial expansion programme in the history of the British motor Industry, in an exclusive Interview, before revealing his plans at a glittering fifth birthday luncheon for British Leyland Motor Corporation at the Savoy, he told Express motoring correspondent David Benson why he was so confident about the future.
I believe there is a tremendous fund of expertise in engineering, production and styling in this country that can challenge the rest of the motor producing world. That is why, despite the massive competition, from Europe and Japan, we are determined to maintain and build up a truly British motor industry. British Leyland was formed only five years ago -it should have been formed a lot earlier. We had a lot of lost time and a lot of lost investment to catch up.
These years were taken up getting our house in order, getting people from all the different factories together, and moulding different ideas and philosophies into a unit. I think this has succeeded now and, as the Chinese say, we are ready for our great leap forward. We are going to be able to put the money into new projects instead of trying to weld together a hotchpotch of ideas. We have exciting cars coming out right through the next five years.
Now, we will have the production capacity behind us, provided we get a reasonable run on the industrial front, to challenge the world.This should enable us to go into Europe as a major force. The British home market is now the whole of Europe and Europe is expanding with ancillary arrangements with Spain, Greece, Turkey and other countries.
The biggest threat to Britain is coming from the Japanese, but I believe that with a really good home market, the facilities we are bullding and the designs we have either on the drawing boards or already going into production, we can meet the threat. It will take us two or three years to get some of the facilities built. But we have the designs for the cars well under way. Prototypes and engineering bits and pieces are running already. New engines are being tested.
The whole thing should gel in the next five years. I think, without doubt, that we have some of the best engineers in the world and our record right back proves that. We pioneered the jet engine, we invented disc brakes. There are so many things where this country has been forerunner and then allowed things to slip out of our hands. Probably we never had the size to take them up and we could never quite afford them and we always let some other country come in and snatch the fruits away from us. By getting all British owned motor manufacturers together and integrated into British Leyland, I believe we are now in a position to take advantage of our engineering expertise.
Certainly, if we hadn’t got together the British motor industry would have expired. The cost nowadays of developing anything new, particularly with problems of pollution and safety, are so great. Individual companies could not have done it. The motor industry worker is very much maligned. Our British workers are extremely good, among the best craftsmen in the worldâ€”there is no question about it.
And I believe, too, that the British people make good salesmen. But we have this terrible habit of denigratingourselves. Take it from me, it’s a great thing abroad to have a British car – despite what a lot of people say. We should be more proud of British industry because it is by British industry that we are going to live, or not live, whether we like it or not. It’s time we woke up to the fact that Britain lives, and most of the people in this country live, because of some work of the motor Industry.
People have a habit of criticising us-some of it is meant to be constructive, some of it is rather ill informed. I suppose 70 to 80 per cent of the cars sold in this country are British and therefore, in the normal run of things, 70 or 80 per cent of all complaints are likely to be about British cars. This is a statistical point a lot of people tend to overlook.
People buy foreign cars for a whole variety of complicated reasons and then have to justify to themselves even if their purchase isn’t quite as exciting as they first thought. I am not decrying foreign manufacturers. Cars today are made under similar conditions on the same sort of machinery whether in England or Europe or Japan or America.
We are all trying to improve our performance, but we all have equal problems because the drivers are human beings who often forget to put in oil or do the most elementary maintenance. Demands people make on their cars are most remarkable. You would never expect this of any other piece of machinery or equipments.
You leave it outside your house, you drive it in rain or snow, over bad roads, you mistreat it, you hit the curb with the wheel, you have minor scrapes and things, and expect it to run perfectly and only reluctantly put in petrol.Remember, we are really dealing with a complicated but personalised piece of machinery in vast quantities. Even so we do get letters saying how marvellous our cars are. No one ever publishes those.
On the organisation side I wouldn’t say we are really a multi-national company. We have facilities overseas, but compared with the modern concept of the “multinational,” we are a British company with large international Interests.We must accept that we have given a lot of business to the Japanese on a plate. But because of production difficulties, industrial difflculties, and a variety of reasons I can never understand we have allowed them into markets they have no right to have. The Japanese are no more clever than we are. I don’t think Japanese cars are as good as British cars.
I dont think they are well-engineered. But when you have a choice of buying a Japanese car now or waiting six months for a British car, you just aren’t going to wait. I believe our new models will help to get business back. The design is right, but we must have availability. No salesman can sell without it. I have never known anything so frustrating in my life. Practically every country in the world is sending me letters, telegrams, even coming on visits demanding my products.
Asking why can’t we have more cars ? We want more carsâ€”in Europe, in America, Australia, New Zealand, whereveryou look. This is an opportunity we cannot turn up. It would improve our standard of living fantastically If we could only meet the demand.
I believe that the bulk of car buying in the future will be in the middle bracket. A few people wil buy exotic cars and the world has shown again, and again that there is no real market for the very cheap motor car. It sounds nice, it sounds ideal, but whether you go to Asia or places with even lower standards of llving, everyone wants the slightly better car.
Nevertheless, I believe the car of the future is going to be small, comfortable, fairly sophisticated, and capable of doing a lot of miles to a gallon of petrol. There is going to be an energy shortage and this is where British Leyland are going to gain. In our lower engined sizes we are streets ahead of other people on fuel consmnption. I believe, for example, we are far better than the Wankel engine which, is very expensive on fuel.
Then there’s service. Today, nobody wants to give service it is expensiveâ€”so the cars themselves have to be more reliable. Also, we are spending a lot of money on research. The kind of money that only a big company could afford. We are working hard on gas turbine development which I believe is a real possibility for the future. They will come first in lorries, then we can afford to scale them down for cars.
People sometimes ask me why British Leyland never put in a bid for Rolls-Royce. The answer’s simple. I don’t think the terms would have matched up with commercial prudence. And when the new Jaguars come along Rolls are going to have to run a lot faster to stay where they are now. Some very exciting cars are coming from Jaguar that will give a lot of heartburn to a lot of specialist manufacturers all over the world. I am confident.
The last five years have been a pretty hard slog, and even now it’s not going to be down hill. But I think the grade is going to be a little less steep.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.