Road Development in the Empire.
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pRINCE ARTHUR of Connaught, when speaking in his capacity as President of the Imperial Motor Transport Council, touched briefly, but nevertheless atrongly, on a matter the importance of which could not conceivably be exaggerated. He referred to the need for the encouragement of road development in all parts of the Empire and the fact that road development wisely and extensively carried out does far more than pay for itself, inasmuch as it increases the value and productivity of the distriets through which the roads are driven.
Naturally, he did not deal exhaustively with the subject, but devoted himself to this main point. As a matter of fact the creation of roads has two main beneficial results. One is that already stated. The other is that, not only does it render possible the opening up and the enriching of new territories, but it also renders possible more efficient and cheap transportation in territories already partially, if not wholly, developed.
Even in Great Britain the cost of operating motor vehicles is far higher than it need be were our roads consistently good. The vehicle manufacturer must build with an eye to the worst roads upon which his vehicle is likely to have to work. If he does this, it stands to reason that he must provide at greater cost a machine of greater weight and greater power than would otherwise be necessary. Moreover, this machine will still depreciate at a greater rate. Thus, both first cost and operating costs are, driven up, and the public must ultimately pay more highly for all' the goods that have been carried.
In point of fact, the main advantage possessed by the American over the British motor industry does not reside in any superiority of technical or even commercial brains, or in any better foresight and provision. It rests rather upon the fact that many countries do not fully appreciate the importance of a good and complete road system. In parts of the United States the roads are good. In still greater parts they are bad. The American manufacturer building with an eye to the bulk of his home market, incidentally, and almost accidentally, turns out a vehicle the points of which easily appeal to those wh; live in other countries that are similarly badly circumstanced.
The more complete the road system of the world be-comes, the more will the British type of vehicle appeal automatically to the more distant markets.
Consequently, Prince Arthur could hardly have brought forward any point which, if acted. upon, would be more beneficial to the future of our home industry.
Our readers must not conclude from these remarks that the British vehicle is fitted only for use on British roads. The war has amply proved the contrary. Its handicap resides rather in the fact that it is easier to convince a man that a product, built specially for conditions nearly identical with his own, is what he requires than to convince him that another product, built primarily for somewhat different conditions, is really just as well, if not better, suited to fill his needs.
Co-operation Amongst Makers. AWRITER. recently in The Times referred to the supposed "fact that, as between various manufacturers, there is so much jealousy and lack of 'cohesion, that internecine rivalry receives more attention than-industrial defence." .
This accusation was very directly countered in the course of Mr. Underdown's speech on Wednesday last. He referred to the success which had attended the endeavour of the 'Association of British Motor and Allied Manufacturers to bring manufacturers together. The Association, he stated, has helped to abolish the old watertight compartment policy under which manufacturers not -only refused to help one another but showed active distrust of those engaged in the same line of business. At various points in his speech he adduced examples which certainly go to prove the accuracy of his contentions.
It is difficult to imagine manufacturers who occupy towards one another an attitude of hostile neutrality collaborating to form and finance a research associa tion to act for them collectively. Such collective action involves dissemination of the results of research amongst all the firms collaborating. This is entirely in-consistent with the dog-in-the-manger policy. Again, we have the fact that the industry, first among specific groups of the engineering trade, has collaborated—with the active assistance of the Government—to send out a Commissioner :to study many of the most important overseas markets. • If the main ambition of one British manufacturer is to score off the others, he is hardly likely to pay anything towards the considerable cost of such an investigation, seeing that the reports and advice of the Commissioner must go to all firms alike. If the correspondent of the Times had made his statement before the war, it would have been impossible to deny its general accuracy. Now, the position has changed
completely in this respect and the fact that it has done so is one of the most promising auguries for a future which, nevertheless, certainly must cause us all considerable anxiety.
Prices and Costs.
p:ROBABLY, THERE will be some expressions of disappointment in view of the inability of the President of the Association of British Motor Manufacturers to include, in the statement of the position made by him on Wednesday last, more details revealing percentage increases in cost of production due to various causes. Were it possible, one would like to have something more than a bare statement to the effect that the industry has, so to speak, made up its accounts carefully, and can assure the public that the percentage rise in price does not so much as equal the percentage rise inathe cost of production.
The, costs incurred by the manufacturer can, in an individual case, be divided up under a number of main headings, as, for example, labour, material, overhead charges—exclusive ofselling—and selling costs. It would be very interesting, were it possible, to be told what is the average rise under each of these headings, as indicated by the records of a considerable number vf firms.
There are, however, insuperable difficulties in the way of estimating such averages. In most cases, the post-war type of vehicle differs materially both in design and equipment from the pre-war type. The degree to which it differs varies in each instance. In some eases, the difference is small, in others it is great. Thus, the returns from one firm might show an increase of perhaps 130 per cent. in the cost of labour while the returns of another firm might show an increase of only 80 per cent.
The percentages under these headings are also subject to wide variation according to the policy of the manufacturer. Some who, before the war, were in the habit of buying complete components may now be manufacturing almost entirely from the raw material in their own works. Others, who previously manufactured completely, may now have come to the conclusion that it is wiser policy to purchase finished components from specialists. In the latter instance, the percentage rise under the heading of wages might be negligible and the rise under the heading of material very great, indeed. In the former instance, the position would be reversed.
Then, again, different firms have always adopted different practices as regards the allocation of costs. Some include many more items than others under the heading of overhead charges. Again, we have variations in selling policy, which, were we to attempt to divide up costs, -would make the returns of different firms vary to such a tremendous degree as to appear perfectly absurd. Thus, any attempt to schedule returns from all quarters and to work out averages from them would merely be dangerous, unless every. figure in the schedule were explained at length. Similarly, if the individual statements swore suppressed and only averages quoted, the result would be to invite invidious comparisons and hostile criticisms of certain firms, quite unjustifiable if all the facts were known.
It is clear that, in face of these and other difficulties, the course actually adopted is in fact the wisest one. After all, it is certainly not too much to ask the public to believe that when the industry seriously and publicly states that it has made detailed investigations leading to certain definite conclusions, the facts are a.,s stated. One would, of course, welcome that detailed circumstantial evidence which would silence all possible doubt as to whether a full investigation had really been conducted, but, in the circumstances, it is difficult to see how to satisfy those who will not accept the solemn assurance of the industry that a full inquiry has, in fact, been made and that the results of that inquiry are honestly put forward.
Corroboration surely should not be necessary, but, if comment proves that i tsuch cerroboration s required, we can only suggest that the industry should call in three or four outside experts of high standing and known integrity, reveal to them in confidence the figures on which their statement is based, and request them to support the accuracy of the conclusions by publicly attaching their names to them.