FEATURE: Niche products define the future for Midlands car manufacturing
Anyone who believes that car making in the UK has had its day should look carefully at the 'niche vehicle' sector in the Midlands and the dozens of independent companies manufacturing innovative cars for specialist markets.
Using the latest manufacturing technology, lightweight components and environmentally friendly innovation, members of the Midlands Niche Vehicle Network met in the West Midlands this week to discuss closer collaboration in research and development.
Twenty five directors and senior engineers brought along their own products to the University of Warwick Science Park's Business Innovation Centre in Coventry to demonstrate the vast range of cars available to buyers looking for something different to the mainstream vehicles that dominate the market.
Innovative design, cutting-edge technology, craftsmanship and exclusivity are the key attributes for many of these cars and the reason why they are made here in the UK rather than in countries where labour is cheap but the skills required are not available.
Brands like Aston Martin, Bentley and Lotus have grown significantly under the ownership of large parent companies. The Midlands Niche Vehicle Network, sponsored by Advantage West Midlands since 2004, aims to support the smaller independent car makers to collaborate and develop its specialist supply chain.
Network organiser Dr Viv Stephens said: "Products like the Morgan Aero8 define the independent niche sector. The styling cues are traditional but the body and chassis are built entirely from aluminium using the latest manufacturing technology and the end-product is truly unique. The Gibbs Aquada looks like a sports car but is actually amphibious and Richard Branson has used one to cross the English Channel.
"The Electric Smart Car, produced by Zytek in Lichfield, shows how UK companies are ideally placed to exploit new niches as buyers look for greener, more environmentally friendly cars. Many of the independent sports car manufacturers are also working on producing hybrid or electric cars for those buyers who want a fun car that is kinder to the environment.
"The West Midlands region is the best location for niche manufacturers to be based, because of the skilled workforce, the specialist supply chain and the wealth of automotive technology companies. We established the network to help the industry to work more closely together."