2 Millionth Qashqai

The 2 millionth Qashqai rolls of the production line

Driving force

Paul Butler, chief executive of the North East Automotive Alliance outlines how the region is going from strength to strength on the back of Nissan’s success.

The North East of England has become synonymous with automotive manufacturing. Nissan’s investment 30 years ago has been the backbone to this, and today the Sunderland plant is widely recognised as one of the most productive plants around the world.

Nissan’s decision to build the new generation of Qashqai and X-Trail SUV at the Sunderland plant is a huge boost of confidence for the North East automotive sector and the UK economy as a whole. It is testament to the excellence of the Nissan employees and its globally competitive supply chain that the plant has been able to secure this investment ahead of increased competition from within the Nissan-Renault Alliance. Since its launch in 1986 the plant has grown from 470 employees producing 5,000 cars to employing 7,000 people producing 500,000 cars per annum, which accounts for nearly one third of all UK car production. This has brought significant investment by its supply chain and today there are 25 tier 1 suppliers serving Nissan’s Sunderland plant.

KomatsuHowever, the North East automotive sector is not just restricted to Nissan and its supply chain. The region is home to a significant off-highway sector which includes Komatsu, Caterpillar, GT Group and Miller Construction UK. Other key OEMs include Cummins, a global leader in the design and manufacture of diesel and alternative fuel engines, and the Explorer Group, manufacturers of the UK’s only fully-bonded touring caravans and motorhomes.

The pace of innovation in automotive is unprecedented, both in terms of on-vehicle and within the manufacturing facilities. The North East is also a hotbed for automotive innovation:

Electric Vehicles
The North East is a leader in the electric vehicle industry. The all-electric Nissan Leaf is manufactured in the region and accounts for 26% of all Electric Vehicle production across Europe. This has had a knock-on effect and now the region boasts a significant and growing reputation for investment into research and development and new and emerging automotive technologies.

Hybrid technologies are also strong in the off-highway sector as demonstrated by Komatsu UK, who recently unveiled their new hybrid HB365LC excavator.

Battery technology, control systems and EV charging networks – the region has secured funding since 2010 to support such developments. The future is all about developing the range of the vehicles so drivers can drive further and charge faster. Lighter cars, bigger batteries are coming and faster charging is under development.

Connected & Autonomous Vehicles
The North East is the only location in the UK where connected vehicles and infrastructure trials are taking place for intelligent traffic management.

These technologies will significantly change the way people interact with their vehicles. Autonomous driving, infotainment, preventative maintenance, modal integration, ride sharing, vehicle communications with smart infrastructure to improve routing and traffic flow and cyber security are just some of the areas that are expected to change. The anticipated expanded model choices and increased personalisation will bring with it challenges and opportunities for more localised content.

The UK, and the North East, is well placed to exploit these opportunities and grow the UK automotive sector. Key strategic developments such as the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) will play a significant role in attracting new investment into the region; the highly skilled, innovative and flexible workforce will be attractive to those investors; and great transport links to the rest of the UK and to Europe will ensure the North East is ready to embrace these opportunities.

Nissa JukeToday there are over 240 companies operating within the automotive sector in the North East. Together they employ over 30,000 people and generate over £11billion of sales for the North East economy. It is perhaps the single most important element in the region’s private sector economy, and given the anticipated growth within the sector, which has the potential to create another 10,000 jobs in the next five to ten years, it looks as though it will remain so. As a proactive industry-led cluster group, the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) was established to support the sustainable economic growth and competitiveness of the region’s automotive sector. The NEAA represents and works on behalf of the whole North East automotive sector, whether a company is making cars or components, working in commercial, off-highway or engine manufacture.

Although the NEAA was only established in March 2015 it is now the UK’s largest automotive cluster, and has been benchmarked for cluster management excellence by the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis. NEAA has also secured £675,000 of match funding from ERDF to deliver a £1.4m project to support SME growth and expansion across the sector. NEAA member companies find benefit from leadership and co-ordination of activities, which have mutual benefit and the membership creates a collaborative network, which is a more compelling and attractive environment for investors. The NEAA acts as a voice for industry and represent members on 19 regional and national industry boards, thus ensuring the region has a say in shaping the support of the North East automotive sector at a regional and national level.