There is often a misperception in the UK – as tends to happen in services-led economies – that the country does not make many things anymore. It is a falsehood, as there remains a solid production base in the UK even if job numbers are lower than in decades past due to automation and a shift to smaller and more advanced manufacturing projects. The country's automotive sector, however, is one that has flown in the face of the perceived loss of manufacturing prowess. There has certainly been production work that has shifted overseas, but there have also been significant foreign investments in the sector and a few of the remaining home-grown automakers are still fuelling local economic activity.
The UK produced more than 1.5 million vehicles in 2014, its highest number since 2007, according to industry statistics, and the UK automotive industry is on track to break manufacturing records by the end of the decade, according to forecasts by the UK's Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), with annual car production expected to race past the 2 million mark by 2020. The SMMT says that demand for premium brands has helped drive growth in annual sales for the industry.
Among the latest signals of the industry's strong health is an announcement by UK sports car maker TVR that it will site a new production facility in Wales. The investment was announced in early 2015 and in March the company said it had selected the Ebbw Vale Enterprise Zone in south Wales as the location.
TVR says it has already secured more than 350 deposits for a new launch edition car – whose design features include Formula 1-inspired, ground-effect technology – to be manufactured at the site. It is set to be the first production car manufactured using TVR’s ‘iStream’ carbon-fibre assembly process. Orders for the car already run through to the end of 2018, according to the company.
Upon the announcement, Les Edgar, chairman of TVR, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity both for TVR and the Welsh government. South Wales is becoming a major hub for automotive and motorsport technology and development and the area is a serious opportunity for business development and job creation. We have a sports car project that has garnered global approval and excitement, and we are delighted that the Welsh government wish to become a part of an exciting new era for TVR.”
The Welsh government plans to invest in the automaker, adding to a project that represents more than £30m ($43.12m) capital expenditure over the next five years.
The location of choice
The TVR project follows closely on the heels of an announcement by UK luxury carmaker Aston Martin that it will build a highly coveted SUV ‘super car’ plant in St Athan in south Wales, creating 750 jobs.
In welcoming the TVR news, Carwyn Jones, the first minister of Wales, said: “This is yet another fantastic high-profile investment for Wales and a great boost for our automotive sector. TVR is another iconic and much-loved, world-class brand that still commands a strong and loyal international following. I am delighted the next generation of TVRs will proudly bear the label Made in Wales…Today’s news follows hot on the heels of the Aston Martin announcement and sends out a strong, clear message that Wales is the location of choice for advanced manufacturing.”
TVR is an independent, and iconic, UK manufacturer of high-end lightweight sports cars. Founded in 1947, the company is headquartered in Surrey, England. After becoming something of a relic, TVR cars are returning to the market after a decade-long absence and the company has outlined a new 10-year plan to bring at least four new models to the market from 2017.
The happy news, however, was overshadowed just weeks later by the announcement that Tata Steel is abandoning its UK steel business, putting south Wales' Port Talbot plant and its 5500 employees at risk. The Welsh government will be hoping desperately that its auto makers keep their eyes firmly on the road.