Is it best to perfect a single product, or produce a large range of goods to appeal to a wider market?
A lot of credit is often given to Rolls-Royce for pursuing a single model policy when they decided to concentrate on perfecting the Silver Ghost chassis, dropping all other designs. This proved to be an excellent decision, as the Silver Ghost became renowned worldwide for it’s quality. It was produced for two decades from 1906-1926.
In contrast, the Belsize Motor Company pursued a completely different strategy. Whilst Rolls-Royce were at the high end of the market, Belsize were competing at the lower end, and were probably best known for their affordable small cars, such as the one pictured below at the Museum of Science and Industry. From around 1900 to the First World War, these cars for middle-class motorists were fairly successful and production grew (they even had a model called the “middle-class”).
However Belsize were not content with producing cars for pleasure purposes, so the company diversified into several different areas; producing taxi-cabs, delivery vans, heavy-goods vehicles, buses, ambulances and fire engines. Particularly successful were their taxi-cabs and trade vehicles, a few of which are pictured below, taken from The Commercial Motor. The pictures and articles from this trade magazine are incredibly helpful, as no commercial Belsize vehicles are known to survive to the present. You will notice, that despite the vehicles having different bodies, the chassis are remarkably similar and many parts would have been standard for all models produced and thus reducing cost.
In a message to company shareholders in 1911, publicised in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser the chairman justifies this diversification and particularly highlights the success of the taxi-cabs:
“We manufacture almost every type of motor vehicle, for which there has been and still continues, a steadily increasing demand. This is a strong position, in that we are not dependent on the success of any one type of vehicle for the continued prosperity of your company. Taking the taxi-cab trade… this has extended to the provincial cities and to suburban districts, as many of you will, no doubt, have noticed. I think it worthy of note that on the streets of the city of Birmingham, the centre of the motor industry, the greater proportion of motor cabs plying for hire are of “Belsize” make.” Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 17 November 1911
Belsize grew to such an extent that they were producing around 3,000 vehicles a year by 1914 (a possible 10% of the national market share). Sadly they went out of business in 1925. Their fate will be the subject for another day.