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Luton's advanced van plant on stream

2nd February 1985
Page 26
Page 26, 2nd February 1985 — Luton's advanced van plant on stream
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Bedford regroups

BEDFORD Commercial Vehicles has had a mixed start to 1985. Last week, Industry Minister John Butcher formally inaugurated its new Luton van plant, but the company's losses last year were greater than its 1983 deficit of over E50m.

The Luton van plant is one of the most advanced in Europe, and represents a major element of the £70m capital investment programme announced by General Motors for Bedford in 1983.

The £50m spent on the new facilities and tooling has contributed significantly to the company's losses of last year, as have the recently announced voluntary redundancy and early retirement programmes.

GM's investment has enabled Bedford to reorganise its van manufacturing.

Where vehicle production was previously spread out among 13 "old and seriously inefficient" buildings, Bedford has regrouped them within just 15 months into two ultra-modern assembly blocks which will produce all CF and Midi van models.

The two new production buildings consist of K Block, where van bodies are assembled, pre-treated and painted, and AA Block, where vehicle trim and final assembly is carried out.

The new phosphate/Elpo plant, which automatically carries out the anti-corrosion treatment and priming of all the van bodies, is an impressive part of the new facility.

The 75,00 gallon capacity Elpo tank is the largest of its kind in Europe, and transfers primer paint to the van bodies by a 500v 1,000 amp direct current.

The new system was pilot tested at GM's Portuguese CF assembly plant before becoming operational in Britain, and is a cathodic process which applies a thicker coat of primer

paint than before, The Elpo plant, which can handle bodies up to the largest CF350 model, has an initial capacity of 18 bodies an hour although this can be increased to 33 per hour.

Once the bodies have been primed they are sealed and colour painted, then are transferred by an overhead conveyor to the main trim and final assembly AA block.

Throughout the entire production cycle from the body shop to final assembly, the progress of each van is closely monitored by closed circuit television and by a computer control room located in each block.

The new Bedford facility has a current capacity for 26,000 CF and Midi vans per year of all types, based on a current production of 15 vehicles an hour, although this can be increased according to demand.

Although Midi van produc tion is currently restricted to short-wheelbase models, Bedford hopes to produce 15,000 Midi variants alone by the end of February 1985.

According to general manager J. T. Battenberg Ill: "Bedford needed this facility very badly, just as it needed the new Midi van which has just entered production. The plant provides us with the extra capacity potential and the technology base needed for the new products being planned for the future."

Bedford is reluctant to say what new products will be launched in 1985, although the most likely new vehicle to be produced at Luton this year is a microvan based on a Suzuki design. GM has a share in Suzuki.

A Luton-built microvan would by-pass the import restrictions currently imposed on those Japanese vehicles which make up the majority of the UK microvan sales.

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