Society for the protection of the motor industry

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Society for the protection of the motor industry

IN 1902 Frederick R. Simms, inventor of the joystick and founder of the RAC, was behind the formation of an organisation designed to represent the interests of car producers and vendors. That organisation was the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, a title first registered on July 16, 1902, with’headquarters at Norfolk House in London’s Strand. The first secretary to the SMM&T was T. F. Woodfine (he held that office for 21 years) and signatures on the articles of association included S. F. Edge and Charles Jarrott. Then there were 40 members. Today the figure rests around 1,500 member companies who need efficient representation and counsel in the face of increasing legislation and difficulty in the sale of motor cars and accessories.

Originally the SMM&T was formed to represent industry interests at motor shows: indeed, the idea that SMM&T members should be controlled in respect of the exhibitions at which their products appeared, and even the form in which their exhibits appeared, has largely survived to this day, Aside from a very useful and creditable liaison and co-ordination involvement with overseas shows (like the six events all over the world last year), the SMM&T is primarily concerned in the organisation and promotion of the International Commercial Motor Transport, International Motor, Royal Smithfield and bi-annual Racing Car Shows. It’s interesting to note that the Commercial event attracted 91,427 visitors in 1973 compared to 401,673 that paid a visit to the Motor Show of that year.

The SMM&T now live in the splendid walled seclusion of Forbes House, Halkin St., SW1X, just around the corner from the RAC Motorsport Division in Belgrave Square. Directing the society is John Beswick and his deputy is the subject of our following interview, J. D. W. “David” Gent. Some 120 staff in nine specialist departments are employed by the society, which draws 60% of its finance from the 1,500 members and the rest from the organisation of motor shows. Among the key departments are those dealing With economics and statistics. Economic adviser, E. H. Cownie, RD, BA, ensures his section produces motor industry forecasts—vital for proper forward planning —a service to interpret current UK and overseas market trends, as well as representing the industry to government committees dealing with matters such as VAT and other company taxes. Chief statistician, E. Patterson, is responsible for the very heart of the SMM&T for the society produces a plethora of facts and figures that help the membership; press and Government understand the sales, output and export performance (primarily) of the British Industry. The services of the statistical department are extraordinarily thorough and diverse, but the best known of its regular figures are those given for the monthly sales of cars (by model) in Britain. The SMM&T “Top Ten” ensures continuous interest in the industry’s fortunes and that the society itself is kept before the public eye. Legal matters, monitoring Government activity and making representations to HMG on behalf of the Industry, are under the care of a separate department headed by Mrs. A. M. Wordsdall. Gerry Kunz looks

after the self-explanatory Exhibition section, and this is obviously a vital department. So, today, is the Overseas section headed by Ken Wallis, for its function is to do everything in its power to co-ordinate and promote exports. Shipping and Transport matters come within a department headed by H. C. Boyle, MA, FCIT. Press and Public Relations are looked after under John Weinthal’s managership: one of their important functions is to ensure that the press have the enormous output of the statistics department in easily digestible form.

But the section that featUres more expansion than any other is that for Engineering (Chief Engineer, F. E. Denmee, CEng, MI Mech.E). Often the department will be asked to comment and advise on proposed legislation, and there are occasions when it will be found that a proposal is impractical, before it is foisted upon an unfortunate motoring public.

In such an organisation committees are the monitors of opinion and serve as useful liaison between the Society and its membership. Of particular interest to MOTOR SPORT readers, and an apt illustration of the Society’s membership, is the Motor Sports Committee. The Chairman is K. H. Douglas of GKN and advice/discussion comes from such diverse interests as four Leyland or Austin Morris representatives–Messrs. Edis, Pearson, SethSmith and W. R.”Bill” Price (the latter three all from Leyland ST)—to gentlemen talking on behalf of Smiths Industries, Duckhams, Champion, Dunlop, Girling, AP, Rubery Owen and Lucas. Naturally all the major British mass-producers are represented, and they are joined on occasion by names such as Duckworth and Chapman, Ecclestone, Kerr and John Wyer. Raymond Mays is also listed on behalf of Owen Racing Organisation. To open our interview with Mr. Gent we asked “What is the biggest problem that the SMM&T faces on behalf of the Industry today?” “Government policy towards the business and the people involved in it,” David Gent pronounced. “To improve matters it is important to recognise that the vast

majority of those working in the motor industry want to work for companies with which they can identify, and they want a choice of employment: working for a State monolith is not the answer. The Government’s Industry Bill highlights an investment shortage, but to help the private investment —which is still the biggest shareholder in our industry—some sort of stimulant is needed.” A major thorn in the side of the SMM&T are the constant demands for import controls, especially on vehicles from Eastern Europe and Japan. Gent feels, “Since the 1930s the Society has admitted importers and we have an agreement never to campaign directly against the wishes of these people. At the Mlle time we must acknowledge our responsibilities to our UK members. Frankly, the indications are that the majority of members would support controls. The French, German and Italian representatives we see at the SMM&T are just as angry about the situation as many of the more militant British, for they too find difficulty in selling within Japan. Many of these people find it hard to reconcile the domestic inflation rate in Japan with the prices of Japanese cars . . .”

Turning to the vexed subject of speed limits to save fuel, Mr. Gent said, “We have never been consulted by the Department of the Environment with respect to fuel saving steps, extra petrol taxation, speed limits or the proposed 2-tier pricing system for fuel. We feel that limits are more likely to do harm than good in energy saving. The reasons arc that slower speeds promote congestion and excessive braking, coupled to fierce use of the lower gears to reach overall limits. A practical example of which can be seen in the American way of motoring. We are also worried that such limits will encourage the design of small-engined, big cars that would be inherently dangerous.”

So far as the overall 70-mph. limit is concerned, Mr. Gent believes, “At present we don’t know the effect on saved lives. We don’t believe that anyone has seriously tried to find out (even the TRRL) what the effects are: in other words, the published results are dishonest. If there are to be limits, let us try them out under controlled conditions over a realistic period of time. After all, the car is designed as an efficient piece of individual transportation, so why remove that efficiency, without convincing proof? Incidentally, we found one of the most illuminating comments of late, from those who decide much of our legislation was that of the GLC Transport Committee Chairman who said that, ’40 m.p.h. is a pleasant speed because it gives you enough time to look a round’.”

David Gent concluded by making an obviously strongly-felt appeal for better roads throughout Britain. He passionately believes that this country will not be fully competitive with other nations until such a network is established, especially with regard to the commorrly-known London Motorway Box.

The reporter left with the feeling that there is at least one official body, hopefully with the car of the politicians (or else one is forced to wonder what practical use it is to the manufacturers), which is concerned in subjects that concern the enthusiast in normal everyday road travel—J.W.