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New plan to energise Welsh automotive sector to be unveiled

The plan to meet the future challenges is being developed by the Welsh Government and Economy Minister Ken Skates will host an Automotive Summit at Hensol Castle, Miskin later today.

It will be a partnership between industry, academia and government and will focus efforts on future-proofing Wales’ manufacturing capability.

The plan will identify the steps needed to develop a resilient, advanced manufacturing sector and a workforce with strong, up to date skills to deliver the products and technologies for a connected and sustainable economy. The detailed plan is expected to be published in April 2020.

The summit at Hensol Castle – The Road Ahead for Manufacturing in Mobility – brings together key players to discuss how best to protect and grow manufacturing in the Welsh automotive industry, as the way people travel changes in response to environmental and technological developments.

The automotive sector in Wales benefitted from growth in production in the UK between 2010 and 2017, but the industry now faces fundamental challenges, especially following recent announcements by Ford to close its Bridgend base and by Honda to close its Swindon operations, which will have an impact on the Welsh supply chain.

Economy Minister Ken Skates said, “Our determination to develop a manufacturing plan is a real statement of intent from the Welsh Government on the actions needed to be taken by industry and government to adapt and change to meet future needs and opportunities.

“The automotive sector, which is being discussed today, faces change on multiple fronts. Mobility is set to become cheaper, more convenient, a better experience, safer and cleaner. Wales, as in the global industry, needs to respond deftly to these developments.

“Any one of those trends is disruptive enough but when taken together they add up to an outright transformation. Electrified, autonomous and connected vehicles will require new designs, new technologies, new supply chains and new thinking.”

Aston Martin at Bro Tathan

With change comes opportunity Welsh Government is working to position Wales as a location for the new technologies the sector will demand. It surprised the automotive world when it persuaded Aston Martin Lagonda to base its new plant at St Athan, near Barry and that formally opens on Friday this week, when it will ramp up production towards 4,000 DBX models with over 750 employees gradually moving on site.

Aerial view of Bro Tathan

Eventually that will become the luxury car maker’s home of electric model manufacturing with a new Lagonda going down the line in a few years.

“Aston Martin chose Bro Tathan Business Park to become the home for its electrification programme and we want to build on that success by encouraging others to follow.

“By building on Wales’ existing industrial and academic excellence, we can play a vital role in the next generation of robotics and automation, low carbon mobility and energy generation.

“Our new plan will be key to the future of the manufacturing industry and the Welsh economy and I am keen to hear views from across the board about how we shape it.”

The move was naturally welcomed by the car parts industry in Wales represented by the Welsh Automotive Forum and ceo Tim Williams said, “Today’s very important Automotive Summit will bring together both industry and Welsh Government, to understand the transition to zero carbon vehicles, the infrastructure required to meet future transport requirements and to work with government, to ensure that resources are in place to anchor the significant automotive industry that we have in Wales.”

The new drive to win automotive business for Wales comes after Ford said it will close the 40-year-old petrol engine plant at Bridgend by the end of 2020 affecting 1,700 jobs.

Next spring it will stop making the Ford Dragon engine, which started assembly in autumn 2018 and end all production there when it concludes a V6 and V8 engine contract for Jaguar Land Rover in the following autumn.

A special task force to find a new user for the massive Ford site, covering over a million square feet, was set up by Welsh Government this year and has not yet reported any success, but I understand there have been very encouraging talks with one potential investor.

Ineos looked at the Ford site for its new £600M Grenadier 4×4 model programme but decided against setting up there and last September confirmed it has taken on the Brocastle Site over the boundary fence from BEP and aims to start making preparations for its new vehicle for global sale after the site-works complete in summer 2020, with Welsh Government support.

Then, Ineos hope to start fitting out its 116-acres site and begin training the first 200 people it wants to engage as it ramps up production with the possibility of a further 300 jobs, and it’s earmarked an adjoining site if further expansion is necessary from 2021.

While these massive investments are centred on the South Wales coastal belt, the Heads of Valleys area has not been ignored.

After the failure of plans for Circuit of Wales, Welsh Government said it would be pumping millions of pounds into an automotive technology park near Ebbw Vale and legendary sports car makers TVR have taken on a factory unit close to the A465 to build its new petrol engined sports car there, creating 1,500 jobs as part of a £100M plan, but they have also been cautious with their investment and production is over two years behind.