On this day : Sir George Harriman dies

On this day in 1973, Sir George Harriman, former President of the British Leyland Motor Corporation passed away after a short illness, aged 65.

Here we rewind to his 13 February 1968 interview with Geoffrey Charles, The Daily Telegraph’s Motoring Correspondent, in which he shared his hopes for British Leyland, going forwards.


Harriman: My hopes for the future

George Harriman
George Harriman, pictured in 1968

Sir George Harriman pointed from the window of his Longbridge office. ‘That’, he said, ‘is the answer to our critics, at home and abroad. That’s what they should see – and it’s happening all the time.’

From BMC’s assembly plant poured an unending stream of thickly waxed cars, every one of them with left-hand drive, heading for the docks.

The new Chairman of British Leyland Motor Corporation was driving home why BMC and Leyland were convinced that greater profitability would flow from co-operation in world markets than from the competition that preceded their merger.

A massive leap forward

Exports, export organisation, overseas marketing, overseas assembly, investment abroad – in all these areas British Leyland is preparing to leap ahead, he emphasises. BMC, as the main volume-producing subsidiary of BMH, is already solidly established, with a total export turnover of £1.9bn representing 4,750,000 vehicles, since the war: over 500,000 more than any other British manufacturer.

In 1966-67, BMC’s exports added up to £147m, with 314,554 vehicles sold abroad last year (including 76,000 of overseas manufacture), having risen from under 150,000 in 1952.

BMC and Jaguar’s overseas marketing organisation, still being streamlined under BMH, is an export network of 550 BMC distributors and 5800 dealers covering 160 world markets, with Jaguar, Daimler and Guy vehicles being sold in over 100 markets, through 152 distributors and nearly 900 dealers.

How will BLMC develop on the marketing side?

‘Again, particularly in export areas’, says Sir George.’ Taking the whole range-BMC cars, Jaguars, Triumphs, Rovers, and especially sports cars, we can build up far stronger dealers with this comprehensive stable. Whereas in some countries, they may have been selling British cars and some competitors’ cars to maintain their strength, they will have a complete, all-British range to offer.’

The same applies on the commercial vehicle side, with BMC trucks running up to eight tons, and Guy, Leyland, Scammell and Albion up to 150 tons.’

So in trucks we now have the most comprehensive range of any manufacturer – vitally important when you’re selling to big transport operators who want an entire range from one British company-and with big profitability.’

Since many of the large operators do their own maintenance, this will cut down their stock inventory and simplify mechanics’ training.’

The overseas view

More than 40% of the British motor industry’s exports today are in CKD (completely knocked down) form, for local assembly, and here again, on the whole, the two groups will work together where before they competed. Some 34% of BMC cars and trucks currently exported are unassembled, or in component form for assembly, in plants in 55 countries.

But in a number of projects BMC has moved beyond assembly to the manufacturing stage (reached when over 50 per cent of the material value of a vehicle is accounted for by locally made components in the country of assembly).

So BMC cars are now being manufactured in India (annual capacity, 25,000 units); Argentina (20,000), Spain (85,000), Australia (55,000) and Italy (50,000), while their car assembly markets, including several projects moving towards full manufacture, are: Malta (annual capacity, 700), Portugal (10,000), Philippines (2,500), Chile (2000), Eire (18,000), Belgium (15,000), New Zealand (20,000), South Africa (20,000), Rhodesia (5000), and Turkey (13,000). BMC commercial vehicles are being assembled in a further 40 countries.

Production of BMC Minis in Chile
Production of BMC Minis in Chile

Reorganisation for exports

Following its first world sales conference in New York last April, BMC is reorganising its export side, aiming at creating marketing centres in at least seven areas, each to have local autonomy – on the lines of BMC Europe – under the control of Directors on the spot, where the corporation does not have its own subsidiary company.

The centres being set up over the next two years will include Central America, the Caribbean, South America, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Africa and Asia. There are already subsidiaries in Europe, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Rhodesia, and Sweden.

An intensified sales drive in Europe is being directed by Mr Filmer Paradise, head of BMC Europe, based in Lausanne. He aims to raise exports to the Common Market from 65,000 units last year to at least 100,000 in 1968. In Africa the target is 60,000 (48,000 in 1967), while in North America, where BMC and Jaguar sales operations have been merged for greater strength and economy, sales are planned to rise from 40,000 last year to 50,000 this year and 100,000 within three years.

Do you feel that there are any misconceptions about the BMH-Leyland marriage?

‘One of the main points of criticism – misunderstanding if you like – has been that we have too many models, have been lacking in market research, and so on. That’s all bunkum. Nor has due credit been given for our export performance and what had happened before devaluation.’

He does not question the need for, or even certainty of, greater rationalisation of models, once BLMC gets into its stride.

‘Certainly rationalisation comes into our plans. We shall do as much as we can, in line with the competitiveness of the product, which is what we have been doing within BMC’

Sir Donald Stokes, Deputy Chairman, Managing Director and Chief Executive of BLMC. has already forecast the dropping of some unprofitable lines, coupled with a move towards the General Motors type of integration and more new models.

Jaguar XJ6

He is unlikely to be disappointed at what BMC and Jaguar have in their pipelines. Longbridge’s engineering and development teams are straining at the leash to be given the green light for a project programme that could put them way ahead of their competitors during the next 10 years, with new models, new power units, more advanced, refined engineering, and revolutionary styling.

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about BMC is that there is stagnation on the engineering and design side – an idea that is exploded when one goes behind Longbridge’s locked doors, or looks dispassionately at the mass movement to front-wheel drive by nearly every major European manufacturer of family cars.

Since the BMC-Jaguar merger, in December 1966 (when BMH was formed), collaboration and consultation have steadily increased between the two, with regular monthly meetings between the Directors and Engineering Executives.

‘But these are very early days in BLMC’, observes Sir George.

‘We haven’t yet got down to discussing the details on which everyone is speculating. Certainly anything on the engineering side will take two or three years to work out, but we have very close technical links and will be using all the brains available.’

Will you continue the policy of ‘badge engineering’?

‘One must differentiate between badge-engineering and marques. Austin, Morris, Riley, Wolseley, MG, Jaguar, and so on, are marques. If you take certain markets, South Africa, for instance, they prefer the name Austin in the family car line.

‘In Australia they prefer Morris, in the United States MG, so the marques are desirable and, in certain export markets where licences are issued, they are issued to specific names or marques.

‘New Zealand is a good example, where the licence is for Wolseley. ‘There’s nothing strange or illogical about this. One need only look at General Motors to see the equivalent: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac – this is exactly the same thing. The only advantage in having one name is perhaps in its repetitive impact, but you still came down to individual names for models.’

With BMH employing more than 120,000 people, worldwide, including 106,000 in Britain, working in 32 factories with a total manufacturing capacity of 1,100,000 vehicles a year could the merger lead to redundancies?

‘It should not create a single one. We are hoping to get away on an expansionist programme. The whole idea of a merger of this nature is to expand. ‘If we don’t expand, we are not going to be competitive with the Americans, the Continentals or the Japanese. It’s as simple as that, and the point where we come back to the Government’s policies as affecting the motor industry and the country in general….’

Looking eastwards, the merger must inject additional strength into both BMH and Leyland to help them in their projects to car and bus-building plants in Russia and other east European countries. Sir George Harriman is heading a working party for Britain’s motor industry to negotiate with the Russians.

‘I am waiting to go there very shortly,’ he explained.

‘The stage we have reached is that there is to be an exchange of engineers, to study automatic transmissions, suspensions, and future engines-those three points have been agreed. But in the end will come a study of cars.’


Also on this day Sir Donald Stokes, Lewis Whyte, Dr Albert Fogg, Jack Plane, John Barber and Tim Addison of Leyland meet at the offices of Warburgs to discuss whether they should pull out of the merger with BMH.

Stokes phoned Sir George Harriman to arrange for John Barber to travel to Longbridge to examine BMH’s finances.

Keith Adams

2 Comments

  1. I’d like to see the financial justification for assembly of 700 units in Malta. I guess back then, they were still UK spec

  2. I think the funniest comment is how Donald Stokes will be happy to see what was in the pipeline at BMC! Maxi? Lol

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