THE TRANSIT OF TRANSPORT.
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What " Reconstruction " Means to the Commercial-vehicle Industry.
WE HAVE JUST lived through the most wonderful week of this most wonderful war. Only the perspective of yeairs that are yet to pass will enable a well-balanced judgment to be essayed as to the proper value in the history of the world.
The task ahead of us—civil, educational, economic, industrial—is one of at least equal moment with any that we have encountered in these years of war.
Reconstruction" is a word with which we have been toying for a twelvemonth. In a week we are confronted with the task itself. But it need not unnerve us, we are capable, now that we are roused, of -even greater endeavours. It is our conviction that "Reconstruction" in all its million ramifications, wil be accomplished, so far as the British Empire is concerned, with far less difficulty than it has been the custom to presume.
In this journal we are, of course, specifically concerned with that portion of the nation's problem which* applies to the production, distribution and use of the industrial motor vehicle. This particularly British industry is now but at the dawn of a wonderful new era, if we are not gravely mistaken, and it would appear that the commercial-motor industry should be able to change over with no more dislocation than any other special trade and with a great deal less than the majority.
• The Triumph of Transport.
In 1914 we had reached a most promising stage of development in the applied science of mechanical transport on common roads. We were beginning to educate public opinion to the view that roads must be made for the traffic and not traffic for the roads. The lorry and delivery van, the fire-engine, the steam wagon and tractor, the parcelcar and many other types were already accepted as far more than a faddist's expensive and experimental alternative to the horse. The war stopped all civilian developnient, but it set the seal of approved success on mechanical haulage to an extent that four years of peace could not have done. In that we have gained.
Transport, .because of the war, is incfuture to occupy its proper position as a key industry, and necessarily there is going to be a huge demand in the near future for vehicles of all types. If this be admitted, it is important to consider how this demand is likely to be met.
The Future of the Factories.
The present national extent of home production -of mechanical transport depends upon the proximity and extent of release from purely Government instructions, the availability of and adequate priority of raw -material, and the method of disposal to be adopted for the returned Army lorry, coupled perhaps with the official intentions of ultimately manufacturing on a considerable scale at Cippenham.
It is understood, after inquiry, that notices of termination of contract have already been issued to the principal lorry manufacturers at present fully engaged on the production of Army four-tonners, but it is also common knowledge that these contracts are subject to considerable and somewhat comitcated notice, involving the Government in absorbing in one way or another a considerable proportion of each factory's output for a period rather in excess of six months. In view of the events of this last most wonderful week, and of the Government's confessed home programme, we do not hesitate to prophesy that this or other Allied Governments will want, in addition to their present considerable stocks. all B30 such output for a very considerable while ahead, and that its contractual responsibility will be an advantage. The principal factories will probably be left therefore with only a portion of their output for civilian disposal for some time to come. And although all civilian demands are by no means always for the standard Army four-tonner (to carry three tons net in military service), it would appear that on the whole these national circumstances will favour ease of reconstruction so far as the leading lorry builders are concerned. So far as can he seen, we shall need an Army of occupation for many months ahead, and the revictualling of devastated regions and the demolition of railways and bridges are all factors making huge calls on Army transport. All of which points to the fact that there will obviously be no shutting down suddenly so far as industrial vehicles are concerned.
Early Release from Control.
The sooner the industry is freed from that form of control which has actually meant absorption, of course, the better. It will be well for the time to come soon when the Government is only one customer of many, and when the factories no longer are dependent for their labour, their material, their very organization on their one customer. .Reconstruction will be hastened, the sooner industries are allowed to stand on their own feet again and to manage their own affairs.,-No control, be it of metal or matches, has proved more than partially effective—all of it is irksome and unhealthy from the industrial point of view. Raw material in many eases will very soon be freed from control now ; much of it has already been in effect we understand, and the industry's factories should be nearing the end of their troubles in that way.
Finally, there is the vexed question of the returned Army vehicle. The totals of vehicles in possession of the British Army appear to be 52,000 lorries, 28,000 cars, and 33,000 bicycles.Although the grade of maintenance is unusually high, the effective life of a machine on active service is probably not more than an average of three years. It may now be fairly presumed that very few if any of the wagons at present overseas will be released for a twelvemonth.
We are probably not wrong in suggesting that the Government intends to inaugurate very considerable road services to supplement home rail services during the next few years. Additionally India and the Dominion Governments realize only too well that for their own particular reconstruction problems they must have mechanical transport in considerable quantities. Taking these and other circumstances known to us into consideration, we think it unlikely that the British manufacturer need take the returned Army lorry into very serious consideration for his first year of reconstruction in any case.
On the whole, if British manufacture receives that measure of protection to which it is entitled, there is little doubt that the reconstruction period can be readily breached by almost all branches of the cornmercial-yehicle industry, that manufacturers on the whole will be glad to be freed, wholly or partially, from further Government requirements, that freedom from control of manufacture, as well as from control of labour and material is a much-to-be-desired state of affairs towards which all possible pressure must be brought at once, andthat finally if the Government's commitments in Europe, and plans for home and in the colonies, eventuate, the returned Army lorry may not be much more than the bogey with which one branch of the industry has been trying to frighten the other I