Together in electric dreams

Paul Butler, CEO, North East Automotive Alliance, says the North East is in the driving seat when it comes to developing the latest technology.

These are very exciting times for the UK automotive sector having enjoyed a sustained period of growth UK production is nearing record levels. The UK has also overtaken Germany to become Europe’s leading nation for automotive productivity. At the same time, the sector is facing a technology revolution of unparalleled levels both in terms of the technology going into vehicles and in how we manufacture the vehicles.

The North East is world renowned as a centre of excellence for automotive manufacturing. The region produces around 30% of the UK’s passenger cars, 26% of all Electric Vehicle production across Europe and 6,000 non-highway vehicles. We also have a globally competitive supply chain with 28 Tier 1 suppliers and a wealth of specialist SMEs and numerous R&D centres, totalling over 240 companies within the automotive sector.

Most people will be familiar with the big-name manufacturers in the region, but it is worth looking at the statistics to get an appreciation of the impressive contribution the automotive industry makes to the local and national economy. Our regional automotive industry collectively generates over £11bn in sales, exporting over £6bn annually, with a trade surplus of £2.6bn.

Today the sector directly employs 30,000 people and impacts a further 141,000 jobs across the UK. In the last five years, £1.6bn has been invested into 46 regional automotive sector projects.

By 2021 we should see the sector grow by approximately £3bn as Nissan prepares for the start of production for new Juke, Qashqai and X-Trail models, and existing tier 1 companies grow and expand as they win more business and as the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) welcomes new companies into the region.

To support, the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) was launched in March 2015 as an industry-led cluster group to support the economic sustainable growth and competitiveness of the sector in the North East of England. The NEAA provides a single unified voice to key stakeholder groups and promotes the true value created by the North East Automotive sector.

The NEAA’s mission is to overcome barriers to growth by providing:

•A network for sharing best practice, benchmarking and solving common problems;

•Access to business excellence, skills and training, driving innovation and adoption of new technologies & processes;

•A focal point for collaborative projects and access to funding;

•A voice for the sector & interface with government bodies;

•Promoting the sector regionally, nationally and internationally;

•Aligning to regional and national strategic objectives (i.e. Re-shoring).

Today the NEAA is the largest automotive cluster in the UK with over 270 cluster participants and one of the fastest growing clusters in Europe; it is also held up as the exemplar automotive cluster in the UK.

Success is down to the fact that it is industry driven, the advisory board ensure NEAA activities are focused on those areas that offer the region the greatest opportunity for growth.

Over 160 industrialists provide over £500,000 of in-kind support to NEAA activities through 13 industry working groups covering five key thematic areas of network & connectivity, business competitiveness, skills, innovation & technology and trade & investment. These groups have provided the catalyst for a level of collaborative working that has not been seen in the sector before.

The North East Automotive Expo is also a beacon for the NE automotive sector and has firmly established itself as the must attend event. In September 2017 over 470 delegates attended the event which featured 100 meet the buyer meetings with representatives from Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, Bentley Motors, Komatsu UK, Cummins UK, Gestamp Tallent, ZF TRW, Calsonic Kansei Europe, Lear Corporation, Arlington Automotive. The event also welcomed a delegation from the Czech Republic to the region and allowed NE companies to gain a greater understanding of the collaboration, trade and investment opportunities within the Czech Republic.

The NEAA has also been working closely with Nissan, the University of Sunderland and ZeroCarbon Futures on a business plan to develop a Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (CESAM). This will be a unique facility to address industry manufacturing challenges, deliver solutions to automotive standards; provide a local demonstrator facility for key underpinning technologies such as digital manufacturing; and accelerating the adoptions and dissemination of manufacturing innovation to significantly improve productivity across all advanced manufacturing sectors.

We must ensure the region is prepared for this transformational change to the automotive sector. Therefore is it critical that that companies in the North East automotive sector have access to the right skills and training opportunities in order to recruit the right people, enabling their businesses to grow.

However, the development of existing staff is critical to ensure we have the high-skilled and well paid jobs needed to grow the local economy.

It is fair to say that the pace in the automotive sector is relentless – and we do not see this pace changing given the predicted growth and expansion of the sector here in the North East of England. We are certainly looking forward to a very exciting period of growth and change.