The news that Jaguar Land Rover is to invest in a £355m new engine plant will do more than simply consolidate the automotive giant’s own resurgence says Simon Griffiths, chief executive of the Manufacturing Advisory Service – West Midlands (MAS-WM)
It is very difficult to summarise just how important Jaguar Land Rover’s decision to base its engine plant at i54 is to the future of manufacturing in the West Midlands.
Parent company TATA Group has overseen significant growth during the course of the last three years and this latest announcement sends the clearest signal yet of its long-term commitment to production in the UK.
And this is no sentimental decision either. The site, situated within one of the Government’s Enterprise Zones at the border of Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire, has been judged on its individual merits against both domestic and international rivals and the business case has been drawn in its favour.
Logistically, the proposed facility at i54 will be within easy reach of its Lode Lane and Castle Bromwich plants and journeys to Halewood could be completed within 90 minutes.
However, this only tells part of the story. Any world class engine plant needs to have access to skilled workers and a supply chain that can meet exacting levels of quality and delivery performance.
In the West Midlands, we have these attributes in abundance and a strong base of suppliers that are industry-leading in castings, power transmission and advanced machining to name but a few engineering disciplines.
Furthermore, the region is fast becoming a global force in the development of low carbon technology, ably assisted by a string of Universities and specialist bodies such as the Warwick Manufacturing Group.
There is no doubt that this manufacturing facet is one that JLR and TATA will be keen to exploit when the new factory is up and running.
Details of exactly how the plant will operate will no doubt become clearer over the course of the next few days, but industry suggestions indicate it could be capable of producing between 250,000 and 500,000 engines ever year…serving Jaguar, Land Rover and Range Rover models.
Hundreds of new jobs will reinforce JLR’s existing 19,000 strong workforce. It is the spin-off benefits to the West Midlands that make even better reading, with local sourcing opportunities set to potentially involve 150 companies in the regional supply chain.
I’ve already mentioned castings, power transmission and advanced machining as areas of automotive expertise we are particularly strong in and this could quite easily be rolled out to include gears, engine controls and valve systems.
There may also be opportunities outside of component supply for design engineers, environmental specialists and other allied sectors…even local service businesses will be keen to see a factory opening on their doorstep.
Whilst this announcement should justifiably be welcomed in the West Midlands, there is a lot of work to be done to make sure we live up to expectations.
There is no room for complacency and it is our role as the region’s leading manufacturing support body to reiterate this message time and time again.
Our advisers will be out on the ground talking to potential suppliers to JLR’s new engine plant and ensuring they are in a position to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.
This may be in the form of introducing new processes, securing quality accreditations, improving delivery performance, even looking at innovations in design. Whatever the requirement, we will be there to listen and positively support.
Local sourcing, in the light of problems seen following the Japan crisis, is a big opportunity for the UK and our reputation in engine production has never been better with i54 joining BMW Hams Hall in Warwickshire, Toyota at Burnaston and Deeside and Ford at Bridgend and Dagenham.
Now is the time for us to seize the opportunity and ensure Jaguar Land Rover look back at this announcement as another positive chapter in its global success story.