Lucas was established in 1872, the same year that the petrol engine was first patented. The first Mercedes 'horseless carriage' was still 14 years away and the Ford Model T wouldn't appear for a further 27 years. The business that Joseph Lucas founded in Birmingham, still the global HQ of Lucas today, represents the consistency and durability of Lucas products and has made Lucas one of the most successful automotive brands in history.
The history of the Lucas Brand
Joseph Lucas was born in Birmingham in 1834 and, following a natural business acumen, began in the early 1860s as a dealer in paraffin oil for domestic lamps and other products. In 1875, a small workshop was opened in Little King Street with 5 employees.
The early product range included ship's lamps (Tom Bowling) with the first "King of the Road" cycle lamp, for use on the Penny Farthing, produced in 1878.
An official patent was obtained in 1880 for the "King of the Road" bicycle lamp. In 1882, Joseph formed a private partnership with his son, Harry, trading under the title of Joseph Lucas & Son. The "King of the Road" Lion became a trademark in 1884 and remained a major feature of Lucas advertising for the next 80 years.
Business expanded dramatically in the bicycle boom of the time. A new factory was built which later developed into the iconic Great King Street premises for the major and successful Lucas Electrical business in Birmingham.
By 1897 a public company, Joseph Lucas Ltd, was formed with Joseph as Chairman. The company had now achieved a leading position in its market and was perfectly positioned to move into the infant automotive parts and accessories market.
Joseph Lucas died in 1902 to be succeeded by his son, Harry, as Chairman. Lucas was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the expanding motor vehicle market which was stimulated by a Parliamentary Act in 1903, which raised the speed limit above walking pace, making the use of cars more attractive.
The range extended to include cycle, motorcycle and car accessories including oil, acetylene, and electric lamps. Great King Street was expanded to meet increased demand.
Range extensions continued and the acquisition of Thomson-Bennett Ltd provided magneto capability to add to the growing Electrical portfolio. This included starters and dynamos (first produced in 1912).
This period saw further rapid expansion as Lucas grew alongside motor car production. Several acquisitions were made but by far the most significant was in 1926 when the companies of C.A. Vandervell & Co. Ltd. and Rotax (Motor Accessories) Ltd. were brought into the organisation.
Lucas became the largest supplier of electrical equipment to the vast majority of British vehicles and the largest manufacturer of accessories.
Following acquisition, the CAV factory in Acton was reorganised to concentrate on all types of commercial and heavy-duty electrical vehicle equipment. Work also began on fuel injection pumps for diesel engines through a partnership formed with Bosch, whose shares were bought back in 1937. Rotax focused on developing the aviation business and was the foundation of the future development of Lucas Aerospace. Lucas purchased the British Bendix company from Bendix US as the first step into the braking business.
In 1943, the Girling brake business was acquired from the New Hudson company, adding hydraulic braking to the company's product portfolio.
In 1951 the title of the company changed to Joseph Lucas (Industries) Limited which became a holding company and distributive subsidiary companies were set up due to the ever increasing range of products. There were 8 manufacturing groups in the UK and more than 12 distribution companies operating overseas.
Product milestones included the first disc brake fitted to a production car and the introduction of the DPA rotary fuel injection pump.
By 1960 there were 57,000 employees and expansion across Europe was gaining momentum. This included brake manufacturing in France and Germany, diesel partnerships in France and Spain plus a significant development of the aftermarket network. Lucas Service was by now a global enterprise. Lucas exported to over 130 markets with around 4,000 authorised outlets.
Lucas began the 1970s as the 54th largest company in the UK. The group was renamed as Lucas Industries in 1974 and a new Lucas corporate identity, including the Lucas diagonal, was introduced in order to meet changed national and international trading conditions. This resulted in the loss of the individual brands of Lucas (lion), Girling and CAV which had gained world-wide recognition.
A period of restructuring and refocusing into overseas markets followed the decline of the UK car manufacturing base. By the end of the decade the focus of Lucas Automotive (created in 1988) had moved into the production of high-technology engine management and braking systems for automotive customers around the world.
Brand transition to the single Lucas green image was completed in 1994 with consistent application across signage, publications, product packaging and advertising on a worldwide basis. Trends within the motor industry towards globalised production and demand for high technology products continued during the 1990s.
The noughties was an eventful decade for Lucas. In 2003 the decision was made by TRW to license the Lucas brand to specialist licensees who could continue the development and investment of the Lucas programs.
At this time Lucas has been trading continuously for over 125 years and is world famous as a supplier of premium quality, technically excellent automotive and motorcycle products for both vehicle manufacturers and the aftermarket.
Today Lucas continues to grow in these channels while dynamically expanding into new markets with new products. Lucas is a thriving global brand with a strategic network of Lucas businesses, head licensees and distributors together contributing to worldwide sales of over $100 million.