A year of transformation and innovative communications

The North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) reflects back on a transformative year as it continues to virtually connect its members during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the start of lockdown at the end of March, the NEAA has adapted and evolved its services to support member companies as well as its financial structure to ensure it could thrive throughout the difficult period.

It has hosted over 65 virtual webinars and August saw its first week-long virtual Automotive Export Week, in partnership with Supply Chain North East and Department for International Trade. Additionally, the cluster has taken much of its best practice sharing online, including the formation of a COVID-19 Emergency Response Group, as well as online focus group activity from energy, injection moulding, trade and manufacturing innovation.

To further connect its members, a virtual monthly NEtwork event takes place enabling companies to learn more about industry news and provides an opportunity to maximise membership and talk to the NEAA team and fellow cluster participants.

Most recently, the NEAA announced that its first virtual Meet the Buyer event will take place in February with Nissan, Komatsu, Cummins, ElringKlinger, Unipres, Minth Automotive and Magna Exteriors as confirmed buyers.

Paul Butler, CEO, North East Automotive Alliance, said: “As we all reflect back on what can only be described as an unprecedented year, there have still been many positives.

“We have worked hard as a sector body to operate as a community, albeit virtually, and we have run such a variety of webinars which have helped transfer knowledge, advice and guidance during this difficult period. These have ranged from wellbeing, mental health and mindfulness, with Ark Associates and Recovery4Life, transport compliance with Logico, a range of digital readiness and remote working sessions with numerous providers, Brexit readiness with tax specialists, MHA Tait Walker, many marketing related sessions with Horizon Works and how to develop a sustainability strategy, with Bradley O’Mahoney Public Relations.

“We have also listened to demand from our members and our monthly online networking event is proving popular and beneficial to organisations wanting to hear more about opportunities for the year ahead, plus fill the void from missed networking with fellow members.

“As COVID has impacted most businesses in some way, there has been an increase in demand when it comes to exporting to help offset any downturn. We were delighted to announce our partnership with leading foreign exchange specialist Xe earlier this year, which will enable exporting NEAA members to benefit from market leading exchange rates in relation to international money transfer and is a relationship supported by the NEAA Trade Group, formed last year to assist member trade activity.

“Innovation and new technology remain a key pillar of our vision for the region. We want to be recognised as a true automotive powerhouse with a very dynamic, forward-looking and competitive supply chain, that incorporates strengths in research, development, innovation and new automotive electrification technologies and manufacturing processes. The recently launched EV North initiative will help support this activity, particularly in powertrain electrification.”

As a not-for-profit organisation, the NEAA has also turned to a number of funded programmes to safeguard its financial position. In July, the NEAA and several partners secured funding for a 5G Connected and Automated Logistics (CAL) enabled pilot and proof of concept. The £4.9m project will receive £2.4m from 5G Create, a £30 million open competition, combining British creativity with innovative new uses for 5G, as part of the wider £200 million 5G testbeds and trials programme (5GTT) funded by the UK Government.

The automotive cluster has also partnered with further organisations to deliver the Accelerate Cross-sector Collaborative Ecosystems and Sustainable Supply-chains (ACCESS) project, funded by Innovate UK and has recently been awarded work with the North East Growth Hub to offer specialist diagnostic tool, GROWTHmapper™, to automotive supply chain companies to assess the impact of COVID-19.

Butler continues: “As we face another tough year ahead, we will continue to look at innovative new platforms and partnerships to benefit our members and rally the region together.”