Matters of moment, February 1983

A plea from British Leyland

BL has joined the “Buy British” Campaigners with a plea to those concerned over prospects of longer dole-queues, smaller wage-packets and salary cheques, and bigger tax-demands, to shun imported cars. It bases its arguments on factors well-known to financial wizards, so we need not enumerate them here. But perhaps, without taking sides, we should at least give BL space over its concern that Japan, for more than two decades, imposed both tariff and non-tariff barriers on car imports, so as to build-up and consolidate its motor industry from a nil base into the World’s largest car-producer with all the consequent advantages of very large-scale investment and production. Yet Japan, admittedly without imposing import duty, contrives to prevent importers from taking more than 1% of the Japanese market, — one car in for every 200 out. Pressure from the Common Market restrains these high Oriental exports. But now it looks as if Mitsubishi will send us large numbers of its cars bearing a 10.6% duty, compared to the 57.5%-plus quotas imposed on our exports to Australia, and that Mazda is contemplating bringing in its cars from S. Africa at 10% duty, against the 100% duty charged on petrol-engined car and 110% on diesel-powered car exports to that country. Ford says it will be bringing into Britain from S. Africa 10,000 Cortina-based pick-ups. S. Korea could soon become a similar danger to increased sales of British-made cars, for although less than 1,000 of her cars come here every year, BL say they suspect we are regarded by S. Korea as a “growth market”. Yet British cars are barred entry to that country. . .

BL also point out that all Vauxhall Royales and Viceroys are imported here from Germany, all Ford Capris and Granadas likewise, and all Talbot Sambas, Tagoras, and Ranchos from France. They emphasise that, in the first six months of 1982, 55% of Astras came here from Germany. 54% of Cortinas from Belgium and Ireland, 48% of Cavaliers from Belgium, 48% of Fiestas from Spain and Germany, and 29% of Escorts from Germany. Worse, from BL’s point of view, 70% of Talbot Horizons arrived in GB from France. These “tied” exports totalled more than 130,000 cars in six months, equal to nearly half-a-year’s output from BL Longbridge.

This has happened only in Britain, among EEC producing countries. Ford has said that the unattractiveness of investment in new UK plants has caused it to produce in other countries and that it must reduce its Sterling cost-base by importing more cars or else a more favourable climate here must be established. BL calls this “a very honest assessment from a Multinational, which has horrifying implications for the British economy and employment.” It reckons that this year 40% of the total market for cars will be met by imports from the combined “tied” and “unfair” trade-areas, and that some 86,000 British jobs will be lost as a result. It considers that the greatest threat is from Spain, where, says BL, “unfair trade is being acutely encouraged, behind high tariff-barriers, to expand Spanish motor-industry capacity when it already has too much capacity”. It looks accusingly at General Motors’ new Spanish plant, expected to send another 70,000 vehicles to Britain this year.

Motor Sport think BL (in which we all have a limited share as tax payers) has a right to its views. But we will continue to report without bias on whatever cars are offered to us for appraisal, whether they are made in Japan, Germany, Spain or anywhere else, it having long been our opinion that motoring journalism should be above politics and international discrimination. Nevertheless, in the prevailing economic crisis, it would be foolish not to hint at the possible consequences of buying imported cars. BL have the good sense to recognise that “people have the right to buy what they want, where they want, and at the price they can afford”. At present Ford best meets that requirement and thus heads the Home-Sales race. But as BL now has some fine new models on offer, such as the Rover Vitesse and MG Metro, etc., and claims that its productivity increased by 40% in 1981, with an output-per-worker that matches most international standards, with these employees accepting basic-wage-awards that have fallen since 1980 from 6.85%, to 3.8% (but with their average earnings up by 77% from genuine productivity bonus-payments). Cost inflation was held to only 1% in 1981 when inflation ran at 10.9%, time lost through disputes having dropped from 7% to 1.6% since 1977. So BL appears to deserve protection from “unfair” imports.

The real crux of the matter is that, as they were said to do over mousetraps, when you make good, reliable cars the customers will arrive automatically. All BL is asking is that if such a customer decides on a British car, he or she should ask the Dealer for proof of country-of-origin (we told you how to crack the Identity-code last December) and, if it is foreign, ask for the same product but made in Britain. This does not seem to us an extreme demand, at a time when, in BL’s opinion, if nothing is done to give our Motor Industry free trade, we will pay very dearly.

The next technical breakthrough?

Last month this column discussed some design-trends. Now that we are all securely attached to our dangerous motor-cars, is it not time that more attention be paid to anti-lock brakes, as one of the best means of preventing accidents when driving on slippery roads, as distinct from hoping to reduce the effects of crashes? Credit must go to Jensen Motors for pioneering Dunlop Maxaret anti-lock braking on the Jensen FF 4WD model in 1966. But it was discontinued by 1972. Since then progress has been slow, with only a few enlightened manufacturers looking for this important breakthrough.

Having been very impressed with the efficiency and increased security of such braking when testing Mercedes-Benz cars, it is good to know that this manufacturer uses ABS anti-lock brakes on its bigger cars and even offers them as an extra on its new 2-litre 190 model. Other design-teams please catch up!

Shell explains

We have come a long way since it was sold as Shell-Mex and cost less than the equivalent of 10p a gallon, Recently SUKO — Shell UK Oil — again put up the price of petrol. Having started this Editorial with financial factors, let us give SUKO’s explanation, or excuse, for this price escalation. It quotes the Chancellor’s petrol-duty increase of 9p. a gallon last March, resulting in a net loss to the Oil Companies of 7p. a gallon in spite of their attempts to increase prices. SUKO points out that if its increase of 5.4p. per gallon of 4-star can be made to stick, the cost to you, the consumer, should remain at only 7p.-a-gallon more than last August’s £1.70.

The snag is that strong competition prevents any reduction in subsidies for Shell retailers, which the parent Company says costs it some £1,000,000 a week. Even without the 8% increase in crude costs since last June. SUKO says its trading performance would have remained unsatisfactory and that even with the latest increase in petrol-prices its costs are still not fully recovered — and that the position is serious in terms of trading and return on capital — which seems a poor outlook for Shell shareholders. . .

Meanwhile, North Sea oil, from which we have never, as car-owners, had much direct benefit, continues to be traded at dollar prices, with a declining pound. The only bright side is, and you may well suppress a laugh, that the one-time conservation panic has resulted, with the recession, say SUKO. in a surplus of both crude and refined oil. . .

Future prospects

The price of Motor Sport is unfortunately being raised to 75p as from the March issue. However, in the next few months we will be strenuously endeavouring to sustain the breadth of the magazine’s appeal with continued colour road tests of high performance quality cars, contemporary interviews and features in addition to our established in-depth coverage of the vintage cars scene and events from all areas of the sporting spectrum.

Marshals plea

While many thousands of enthusiasts enjoy watching club races each weekend, few stop to think about the dedicated people who act as marshals at every event. These are volunteers, and in the main are members of the British Motor Racing Marshals Club. In order to continue to maintain this essential service, the Club needs new members willing to get involved in the running of their sport. It can be wet and cold, but it can also be very exciting, and offers an excellent opportunity to see the action at close quarters. Prospective volunteers should get in touch with G. J. Ledgard, 51 Shenley Road, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, MK3 6HE.

Historic Motor Show

Featuring cars, motorcycles, and commercial vehicles, all pre-1950, this exhibition marks the 21st anniversary of the Southern Counties Historic Vehicles Preservation Trust. Formed to provide a link between individual clubs in the South, the Trust is organising this once-only show as a special celebration. It will be held on Saturday and Sunday, April 9th and 10th, and will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. Admission is £1.50 for adults and 50p for children. For further information, the Trust Secretary is Brian Johnson, 2 Ivy Lane, Westergate, Chichester, Sussex.

World cars

It has become very popular indeed for car manufacturers to spread their production load around various countries. Presumably this partly to improve local sales by eliminating import duty, and partly to ensure profitable production no matter what happens to currency exchange rates, component availability and the stability of industrial relations. Renault is a firm believer in this policy, and before the end of the year the Renault 9, to name but one model, will be corning off production lines in France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Taiwan, Argentina, South Africa, Zaire, the Ivo, Coast and the USA. Whew, — G.P.