domingo, 18 de agosto de 2013

The Bedford "World Van"?

"World Van" was the plan that General Motors had in the early 80's to replace the +10 year old Bedford CF. Several articles in Commercial Motor magazine document the rise and fall of the CF successor.

In 1982 Bedford separates itself from Vauxhall and affiliates with GM's Truck and Bus Group. The objective of this move was to unify all of GM's resources for a "world truck" concept. This is the first time that the CF replacement is mentioned.

Dec.1982 article "Bedford severs the Vauxhall link":

"In a move which will take Bedford a step closer to the GM "world truck" concept, a Bedford Commercial Vehicle Division of the General Motors Overseas Commercial Vehicle Corporation will be formed later this month. It will be affiliated to the GM Worldwide Truck and Bus Group, based at Pontiac, Michigan." (...)
"The change in structure will help Bedford fit in with the year old Truck and Bus Division's aim of pooling the design, manufacturing and marketing resources of GM's international organization to maximize economies of scale and realize the full potential of its large-scale production.
This is the corporation's approach to the "world truck" concept, and will mean that maximum use will be made of suitable parts across its range, be they door handles, engines, or floor pans. But it does not mean, necessarily, that identical vehicles will be built in Britain, and the United States.
The first British fruit of this approach is likely to be a CF medium-van replacement, which is planned for launch in three years." (...)
CM - 11th December 1982, Page 3

Six months later, in July 1983, two more articles gives us more details about GM's plan with Bedford and also mention the CF replacement as "the first of Bedford's world trucks".
"(...) GM is pinning its faith in self-generated salvation, and the first step of a £70m investment plan will be the assembly of the WFR, a one-ton van based on a Japanese lsuzu model which is already being sold in mainland Europe. It will be available from the end of next year, and will complement the existing Bedford range.
The body, trim and final assembly lines at the Luton van plant will be rearranged and modernised specifically for the WFR, CF and CF electric models. This will incorporate a body protection system with phosphate protective coating using a fulldip immersion process.
In the longer term, Bedford is to produce and sell entirely new designs of commercials, taking advantage of the "world truck" scale economies possible through the Truck and Bus Group. A medium van to produce the CF is among these plans, but it will not be ready until after 1986, when Ford replaces its long-running Transit, by far the market leader in Britain. (..)"

In the other article, we start to see where GM shot itself in the foot... Instead of focusing on the CF replacement (that would be the main competitor with the market leader Ford Transit), they were putting all there attention on the re-badged Isuzu. GM was now stalling the World Van until the point where it was to late.

"(...) GM vice-president Donald Atwood said last week: "It is our goal to make it a UK van."
Bedford aims to sell 12,000, WFRs in 1985 and 20,000 a year after that, half of these being exported. While it is a way of plugging a gap in the range and of using up an embarrasingly under-used factory, Bedford insists that the WFR is no "stop-gap" model.
It will be available "for the foreseeable future" and for "a number of years", Mr Atwood insisted. The long-awaited CF replacement — the first of Bedford's world trucks — is not expected to be available until the late Eighties, some time after Ford's Triton, the Transit replacement which is scheduled for a 1986 launch. (...)"

Three years later, in July 1986, Bedford should have been unveiling it's new CF replacement to compete with the all new third generation Ford Transit but instead the headlines read that GM had killed the World Van! The launch had already been pushed forward to 1988 as sales of the aged CF were dropping. Bedford was losing £1·5 million a week and at this same time the merger talks with Leyland were shot down by the Thatcher government. The decision was made...

"Bedford's future in the UK heavy market has suffered a new blow with news that its parent company, General Motors, has shelved plans to build a "world van", the vehicle originally intended to replace the Bedford CF range.
The decision to suspend work on the world van — due for launch in 1988 — follows a change in GM's vehicle development policy which will see resources switched to alternative forward heavy truck programmes.
Bedford insists that the project has not been totally abandoned, although it will give no indication about its future heavy van policy, or whether it will develop a replacement to the ageing CF independent of the GM World Truck and Bus Group.
The world van project was originally intended to use GM's global manufacturing and design resources with production of the basic model spread throughout different countries, using common components. Having already gone to Isuzu and Suzuki for its Midi and Rascal van designs, Bedford may try once again to find a Japanese partner with a suitable large panel van which could be assembled at its Luton plant. GM currently holds a 38 per cent share in Isuzu.
Since the launch of the Midi in 1984, CF sales have declined by around 30% although its overall light commercial sales have risen. (...)"

So far, to my knowledge, there was no prototype, concept, or even sketches released to the public of the "World Van" that GM was presumably developing. I have long searched and came up with nothing, until now...


After graduating, Geoff Lawson joined Vauxhall in 1969 as a designer. He worked on several projects for General Motors in the USA and Europe, like the 1974 Vauxhall SRV concept, 1977 Panther 6 concept and the successful 1975 Vauxhall Chevette. By 1982 he had moved up the ladder to become Chief Designer of styling at Bedford Trucks in Luton.
He went on to become the top designer at Jaguar in 1984 where he was successful with the XJ220, XJ6, XJ8, XK8 and S-Type. He suffered a stroke and passed away in 1999.

As mentioned above, 1982 is when GM first announced the World Van concept, so Lawson would have had is hands in designing that van at the time. Following the Lawson connection I found a post on the Big Lorry Blog - Futuristic trucks... Biglorryblog highlights the fabulous drawings of the late Geoff Lawson--GM design guru.

Posted there are a series of concept sketches of commercial trucks from 1982-1983 by Geoff Lawson that are in the possession of Ed Burrows. There is a strong possibility that these were early Bedford World Truck concepts and one of the drawings certainly showcases what seems to be a van! Could that have been the replacement of the CF? 

I can imagine that if something remotely similar to that futuristic van ever went into production in the following years, with the reliable japanese engines from Isuzu, it would have crushed the Ford Transit and dominated the market saving Bedford in the process. That design is just way ahead of it's time!
You have to also remember that Bedford was already producing an Electric CF way before anyone was talking about EV's and alternative fuels. The whole World Van concept was 30 years of it's time, just look at what Ford is doing with the Global Transit today!

If you have any further information please comment below. Thanks.

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