Friday, August 18, 2023

Lucas - King of the Road

 Lucas were the backbone of the British motor industry right from the start.

The three generations of the Lucas family strongly supported by non-family chairmen including Peter Bennett and Bernard Scott led the way in technical innovation, manufacturing efficiency and marketing. It was not by accident that they supplied nearly three of the British market and a good proportion of those in countries developing their indigenous motor industry.

They began with bicycle lamps. Harry, son of Joseph, joined the business with the firm belief that quality was vital, that orders should only be accepted if they could be delivered, and that price mattered. With the coming of motor cars, Harry Lucas was quick to see the opportunities to move into lighting and starting motor cars.

With the coming of the First World War, Harry Lucas was keen to provide motor companies with what they needed for the war effort. A major problem was that the War Office had specified Bosch Magnetos for their vehicles. The components industry pre-war had been content with this, and the ability of British companies to supply magnetos was strictly limited. One company in particular, Thomson Bennett, rose to the challenged. Harry Lucas pounced when, in 1914, the opportunity arose to purchase it. This was going to prove of massive value to Lucas in the years to come, not least in the person of Peter Bennett. During the war, Lucas grew to some 4,000 employees, 1,200 of whom were making magnetos.

After the war, Lucas were growing their business in a number of very focused ways. They accepted offers by the smaller component manufacturers to buy their businesses, and then, a little later, agreed to buy their two larger competitors, Rotax and CAV when the latter experienced harsh trading conditions in the mid 1920s. Lucas was able to do this because they had always pursued conservative financial policies, and so were able both to weather storms, but also take advantage of the weakness of others.

Lucas men volunteered for service in the Second World War to such an extent that men joked of the Lucas Light Infantry, as they also joked about the Rootes Rifles.

I will write in my next post about Lucas in the air.

You can read more about my take on the story of UK manufacturing on this blog and my exploration of the supply to the British Army by following this link.

Image with thanks to the British Motor archive

 I write more in my forthcoming book, Vehicles to Vaccines.

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