Company is still trucking on after 120 years of production

Leyland Trucks is universally recognised as one of Britain's leading manufacturing companies.

Wednesday, 6th July 2016, 10:09 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 7:29 pm
Workers at Leyland Trucks gather to welcome the Comet

Celebrating an astonishing 120 years of production in 2016, the company is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of PACCAR Inc, and the global centre of its light and medium duty truck design, development and manufacture.

The Leyland facility now produces around 14,500

vehicles per year and employs 1,000 people at its 86-acre site, but where does the story begin?

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Madras State Transport bought two Leyland Comets to carry visitors. One was built into a double decker bus, whilst the other became a Kashmiri houseboat

The origin of truck-building in Leyland can be traced back to two men – James Sumner and Henry Spurrier – who together formed The Lancashire Steam Motor Company in 1896 to build a 1.5 ton capacity steam van.

The two friends could not have foreseen the incredible success story which would give the town worldwide recognition and leave a legacy which would be passed down through generations.

The first petrol-engined vehicle, nicknamed The Pig, was produced in 1904, followed a year later by the supply of the first Leyland bus for service in London. In 1907 the company absorbed the steam wagon builder Coulthards of Preston, adopting the name of Leyland Motors Limited later in the year.

The First World War had a profound effect on Leyland Motors and the company concentrated on building 5,932 vehicles for the British forces. At the height of the war, Leyland was employing more than 3,000 people.

Leyland Motors made its first vehicle export with a steam mail van for Ceylon.

With the late 1920s came some legendary Leyland models which put the company at the forefront of bus and truck design, starting the Leyland Zoo with animal names for models such as the Lion, Lioness, Llama, Leveret, Tiger, Terrier, Badger, Beaver, Bull, Bison and Buffalo, along with the non-animal Leviathon, Titan and Titanic, which brought the company back to prosperity after the crisis of the early 1920s. Names such as these would be synonymous with Leyland for nearly 60 years until the T45 range swept them away.

The 1930s continued the development of this well received range, as Hippo, Rhino, Octopus and Buffalo were added to the ‘heavy’ range of vehicles. Trolleybuses and Chorley-built fire engines also became well established in the line-up of products. A leap forward during this period was the introduction of Leyland’s own compression ignition engine (diesel), after which the days of the petrol engine were numbered in civilian use Leyland vehicles.

A ‘secret’ factory to build tanks was finished just as the Second World War began. Wartime output was varied as 11,000 employees produced 9,000 wheeled vehicles, 3,000 tanks, 10,000 tank engines and a large quantity of munitions.

The 1950s saw a massive expansion of Leyland Motors as the famous UK makes of Scammell Lorries and Albion Motors were acquired, and the company became a major supplier to international markets.

Vehicle Test Centre at Leyland National Factory, Workington, Cumbria

Overall, the 1970s were a challenging period for Leyland although at the end of the decade the new T45 range was announced. As this product was brought to market, a new £33 million assembly plant opened on the outskirts of Leyland, which remains the home of the current day Leyland Trucks.

Trouble hit in 1982 when employees took part in strikes over workers rights due to the reorganisation of the company. This ultimately affected the business, with almost 1,800 job losses.

The truck operation had been drastically reduced by the early 1980s and the bus and truck sides were separated ready for their sell off in 1987 when Leyland Trucks was merged with Netherlands-based DAF to form Leyland DAF.

Despite efforts to save the company, receivers were called in on February 2 1993, bringing hundreds of job losses across the Leyland and Chorley sites.

1896 1.5 tonne steam van

A new DAF heavy truck business restarted in Holland and Belgium within a month, but it was a management buyout at Leyland Trucks in June 1993 that proved the salvation of truck-building in the town. A new arrangement with DAF established that Leyland Trucks sells to the UK and European markets through ‘new DAF’.

In 1996 PACCAR acquired DAF and in 1998 Leyland Trucks. The period since 1998 has seen substantial growth in volumes and profit, and significant investment in product, facilities and people.

The current award winning Leyland Trucks company produces the full range of DAF Trucks product in support of the company’s markets in the UK and around the world, utilising state of the art manufacturing process and lean methodologies. It has recently undergone major renovation and has also benefited from multi-million-pound investment, keeping it at the cutting edge of technology.

Amongst many technological innovations, track-based employees benefit from an electronic work instruction system, providing complex real time build information on each bespoke truck that comes down the production line.

The site currently operates at a 12 trucks per hour capacity, with 2015 production at 14,500 trucks – 60 per cent of production serving the UK market and the remaining 40 per cent exported. Such significant export capability has led the company in previous years to win the prestigious Queens Award for Enterprise in International Trade. While in the UK, approximately one in three new trucks on the road come from the Leyland Trucks facility.

In 2015 Leyland Trucks celebrated the production of the 400,000th commercial vehicle built at the plant. The vehicle, a DAF XF 460 FTP tractor unit, was handed over to customer, Carr’s Flour of Silloth in Cumbria, during a special ceremony.

1907 truck

In addition to hosting numerous customer visits, Leyland Trucks regularly welcomes many schools, colleges and universities to the site, with nearly 500 students visiting in 2015.

And it has also had its fair share of visits from VIPs, including former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and later Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, in 2003.

Leyland Trucks also has a long history of developing its people, utilising apprenticeship schemes and encouraging a culture of teamwork and enterprise. Its longstanding commitment to apprenticeships and to the continuous development of employees has resulted in many of its workforce gaining higher level qualifications and moving on to senior positions within the organisation. The company has expanded its range of apprenticeship opportunities and now offers apprenticeships across its assembly operations, maintenance environments, design centre and parts business. Such investment in employees ensures the Leyland Trucks workforce is highly skilled, something highlighted continually in its strapline:

Leyland Trucks fosters a collaborative approach with its employees, inspiring people to be involved in all aspects of the business, while also encouraging

initiatives that have wider benefit to the community. One such initiative is the Helping Hand charity committee. Since its founding in 1994, employees from many areas of the business have devoted their time to the generation of funds which are distributed to a wide variety of local charities and good causes.

1940s Comet
1980s Roadrunner
Madras State Transport bought two Leyland Comets to carry visitors. One was built into a double decker bus, whilst the other became a Kashmiri houseboat
Leyland Motors made its first vehicle export with a steam mail van for Ceylon.
Vehicle Test Centre at Leyland National Factory, Workington, Cumbria
1896 1.5 tonne steam van
1907 truck
1940s Comet
1980s Roadrunner