Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Only Two British Bus Builders Left – So What?

When Leeds-based bus manufacturer Optare handed over the reins of their own company to the Indian manufacturer Ashok Leyland, there were some who were ready to see this as further evidence of Britain's apparent inability to invest in British industry.

You can see their point. The past thirty years have seen the extinction of a host of familiar bus marques - AEC, Bristol, Daimler, Duple, MCW, Leyland to name but six. Commer has gone, so has Foden, in fact Britain's motor industry as a whole is a mere shadow of its former self. All the Leyland brands – Morris, Austin, Riley, Wolseley, Vandan Plas and the rest - have vanished, and those that remain are either in the hands of the Germans (the Mini), the Chinese (MG Rover) or the Indians (Jaguar and Land Rover). Honda, Toyota, Peugeot and Nissan all build cars in Britain, but Ford doesn’t anymore.

So this latest off-shoring of British industry thanks to Ashok Leyland's canny acquisition last week of a further 50% to add to its existing 25% stake in Optare means that there are now only two major wholly-British bus manufacturers left – Wrightbus and Alexander Dennis.

But is this a bad thing?

Well, not for the Optare workers it's not. After months and months of uncertainty, the executives and the workers on the shop floor can both now see some semblance of financial stability and, blessed with owners who have clear international ambitions, the Optare team are probably expecting new orders, and plenty of them, to shortly follow.

For its part, Ashok Leyland have said they will be seeking to help Optare to improve its productivity by sourcing materials on a global basis – something which comes as second nature to a global company like Ashok Leyland - and through investment in new models.

And Indian investment in the UK automotive sector is certainly nothing new. Take Tata, for example, who have been quietly and efficiently running Jaguar and Land Rover for some time now. There's been not the slightest hint of the asset-stripping, only good and careful business, confirming the view that Indian investors are generally content to take a longer term view of their investments. And hurrah for that.

For the moment, the Optare website is snugly nestled on the home page of the Ashok Leyland website. They seem proud of their acquisition. I don't expect that to change any time soon.

All told, I have the distinct impression that Yorkshire-built Optare buses are going to be around for quite a bit longer...

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