The automotive business blog from Simon Warburton
If you would like to offer your comments, opinions, suggest topics or just have a good rant, please feel free to email: Simon Warburton.
Emeritus Professor just the ticket
06 Dec 2013 16:10
I'm making my way back from last night's Welsh Automotive Forum (WAF) dinner at the Vale Hotel near Cardiff - a venue used by the Wales rugby team whose pictures liberally adorn the walls - and my first time at the event.
I spent four great years in Swansea and even though I now live relatively close to the Welsh border, there's something undeniably different about crossing into a clearly defined country that resides in the United Kingdom, but which very much and fiercely, retains its own identity.
WAF - as they call themselves - bill this evening as a networking event and there was evidence of that in bucketloads during the convivial pre-dinner session where the good and the great of the Welsh car industry got together for a lot of chin-wagging and a catch-up.
I met Emeritus Professor, Garel Rhys, a name known domestically and internationally and although I've heard him many times on British radio, I'd not met him before.
And a mesmerising ten minutes I had with him too. The man is a force of nature, a volcano of informed opinion garnered during decades of expertise, laced with a liberal dollop of Welsh fire.
He reminded me of a cross between Neil Kinnock - charasmatic former Labour party leader and Cliff Morgan - legendary Welsh rugby commentator - with a dash of pulpit evangelising thrown in for good measure.
I offered my own small observations - mainly about the recent visit I'd made to Lille to look at French automotive clusters - and he was good enough to listen and provide his own rich array of anecdotes.
Rhys also addressed the audience formally later in a tub-thumping display of oratory that appeared to need almost no notes, but which was a tour de force of the UK auto business and its recipe for present and future success.
The industry - UK manufacturing in general perhaps - needs ambassadors like the Emeritus Professor - whose passion for his subject shone through the evening which also featured former Ford of Britain chairman Joe Greenwell whose own long expertise is now being harnessed by the UK government.
Rhys is clearly a man who likes his rugby and liberally sprinkled his address with references to Wales' demolition of England - it would have to be England -earlier this year in the Six Nations tournament. It was 30, er, 3.
But he was also self-deprecating enough to sign off his speech with a reference to the current powerhouse of world rugby: "And in 2084 we will beat New Zealand again," was his pithy observation.
More of Professor Rhys' ilk would be just the ticket.
Worth stopping in north east France
15 Nov 2013 09:41
I'm writing this 600ft under the English Channel on the still-impressive Eurostar thundering its way from Lille to London St Pancras after two days spent looking at the series of north-east France automotive clusters.
Tunnels I'm not a great fan of - especially when there are hundreds of millions of gallons of water above me - what if it springs a leak is just one thought I try not to have in my head - but the subterranean journey gives me a bit of time to think about the 48h I've just had in the Lille area.
Most Brits like me pile off the ferry or more likely these days, Le Shuttle and head straight for that greatest of French signs, "toutes directions" and plough down the A26 to either gites in the Dordogne or the bright lights of Provence.
But it's really worth making a detour to have a look at this area, which is heavily populated with auto companies and has the ambitious aim to be France's premier region for the industry after it lost a significant part of its mining business, the legacy of which are the vast slag heaps that loom up out of the generally flat landscape.
I was with Nord France Invest, who are looking to drum up interest in the region, although to be fair, it already boasts an impressive array of OEMs and suppliers, whose ambition to make the area pre-eminent in France's auto sector, will probably only be enhanced by the imminent closure of PSA Peugeot Citroen's Aulnay plant near Paris.
Some 36,000 people are employed in the auto sector in this vast region, encompassing Lille itself, but also Valenciennes, whose Ligue 1 football team is sponsored by Toyota, while Lens, Arras, Amiens and others are names resonating in First World War history.
Next year will see the region gear up for vast ceremonies commemorating the hundreth anniversary of the outbreak of WW1, but despite that past, the area is especially keen to stress its place in the present by attracting automotive companies to its burgeoning mobility clusters, encompassing universities, government and business.
We spent a whistle stop first day looking at Toyota's vast Yaris factory in Valenciennes, before meeting the directors of the Transalley and Pole Automobile sustainable mobility clusters.
The afternoon was with UM Corporation, a joint venture between Magnetto and Japanese Unipres, as well as independent test centre, CRITT M2A, whose 7,000 square metre facility features a turbocharger evaluation unit, replete with reverberating rooms and semi-anechoic chamber. One room was so deliberately quiet you could have literally heard a pin drop.
Nord France Invest organised its 'The Lille Region, an engine of the European automotive industry' conference yesterday at a hotel with a vast casino and featuring civil servants, manufacturers and suppliers, all keen to promote the significant impact this area of the country has on the auto sector.
As well as debates featuring Toyota, Renault, several suppliers and green mobility companies, the afternoon was enlivened by former US Ambassador, Howard Gutman, who took delegates on a barnstorming analysis of European and American future energy needs.
A walk back through the rain brought me to Lille's international station, a bleak, windswept concrete edifice, but the impressively punctual Eurostar whisked us rapidly across northern France and back to Blighty.
There is far more to this region than meets the eye and it genuinely merits a stop on its own, particularly from an automotive perspective.
It has a determined set of industrialists, academics and politicians, who see huge potential to replace old sectors and develop new ones; it's a rare bright spot at the moment in France's current economic gloom.
Networking in Gothenburg
10 Oct 2013 18:31
My hotel in Gothenburg's hosting an undertaker's company conference - not something I've ever encountered before - but it is and a cheerful bunch they are too.
I don't know if I was expecting anything else, but it's a business just like any else and they have conferences just as we all do, while I just about managed to resist all the puns they must have heard a thousand times.
Moving on from the funeral trade, today (10 October) was also conference day, but this time the FKG's Annual Suppliers Forum in Gothenburg, which brought together an impressive 450 component makers across Scandinavia.
And it took some time, but when his name was finally mentioned on stage in the very impressive auditorium of Gothenburg's prestigious Chalmers University of Technology during the final session of the Forum, a frisson of times past could almost be felt rippling through the room.
Victor Muller - Saab's former boss and someone used to bringing the house down on several stages himself - was eventually name-checked by - well the automaker's new owners NEVS and then people couldn't stop saying it, Harry Potter like.
NEVS' VP purchasing, Per Svantesson, made his presentation to the 450 suppliers packed into the hall and although gave a tub-thumping glimpse into what many hope will be the rebirth of the 9-3, memories flooded back as the audience remembered Saab in its former incarnation's unhappy descent into bankruptcy.
Today's conference was crammed full of presentations, but what was also striking was the way FKG, much along the lines of CLEPA in Brussels and the SMMT in the UK, are cannily using the breaks and lunches to facilitate generous dollops of networking, everyone standing up and taking advantage to chat.
That was also certainly the case last night at FKG's 'mingle' dinner in a swanky Gothenburg hotel, that wasn't really a dinner at all, but a much more friendly buffet for the 270 guests, the maximum the venue would allow.
CLEPA does this sort of thing very well and I certainly met people I would never have bumped into from the Swedish component sector and who were good enough to speak their excellent English to me, although I reckon any conversation almost anywhere in the world can be started just by mentioning football, even if one supplier thought I was German.
The evening was essentially Swedish-themed - a point forcefully underlined when an impersonator strode onto the stage dressed as Carl Gustaf - the er King of Sweden.
The King's act was followed by a Swedish stand-up - who I'm told did some pretty good impressions of his country's politicians and sportsmen - but it clearly flew straight over my head.
Back to the conference today and I interviewed Sweden's Enterprise State Secretary, Hakan Ekengren, who was, well, pretty political in his approach, while I also talked to UK Trade & Investment technology specialist, John Kell, as well as FKG chairman, Per-Ewe Wendel.
FKG is a great admirer of the Brits and our influential Automotive Council and with GBP3bn (US$4.8bn) of potential supplier opportunity in the UK, the component makers in the room were rapt with attention to Kell's 'Automotive is Great Britain,' presentation.
I have a free evening tonight and FKG has recommended the Linnegatan area of Gothenburg, so I might give it a go, although something tells me it'll be another night of ice hockey ahead of the huge football games tomorrow.
It looks like there is - another - French air traffic control strike today - but thankfully I'm returning home via Amsterdam tomorrow so should avoid any snowball effect and this time I have some reasonable time to make my connection through one of the world's busiest airports.
Saab geared up to go as autumn kicks in
09 Oct 2013 17:28
Autumn has arrived with a vengance in this part of Western Sweden where I am for the FKG Annual Suppliers Forum tomorrow (10 October), a fact made very obvious out of my train window en route from Gothenburg to Saab's hometown of Trollhattan.
The trees are currently a riot of gold and orange and that striking mood was continued as I visited Saab at its enormous factory and the contrast with when I previously came to Trollhattan around 18 months ago, could not be greater.
Then, the facility was empty and soulless and while it's not exactly a hive of activity now, at least there are genuine signs of life as the factory goes through its validation processes ahead of an imminent restart date.
Ah, that production date. Try as I might, Saab isn't having any of me attempting to get as much as a squeak of when assembly lines will hum to the tune of copious 9-3s being put together.
All they will say is "this autumn" - well it's 9 October already and those Swedish trees are testament to a rapidly advancing calendar that will soon see winter on us.
Perhaps the avalanche of negative publicity surrounding Saab's previous incarnation - and which is clearly nothing to do with the current owners - has made them coy about raising expectations so it's very much a softly softly approach.
I was allowed to go so far into the factory - but not further - although I could tantalisingly see a model in the distance being assembled.
But by complete chance I also bumped into Hakan Scott on the site, who was heavily involved in the IF Metall union negotiations as Saab went through its previous travails and who is still clearly part of the labour body furniture.
It was back in the afternoon to meet Volvo in Gothenburg and ahead of the Scandinavian suppliers association, FKG, dinner this evening, where Sweden's main automaker's SVP purchasing & manufacturing, Lars Wrebo, will give the keynote speech.
As it's currently pouring with rain as I look out of the window writing this - I got a right soaking last night getting lost from the airport - Gothenburg's taxi drivers and I will probably have a lively discussion on their fare levels.
Trains, taxis, food, I'm constantly raising eyebrows at it all but it seems Sweden escaped the worst the recession threw at us in the UK and from what I saw of the city meeting Volvo today, shops are rammed and business brisk.
I watched an ice hockey game on TV last night, but Swedish eyes are now very much turning to their country's crucial football World Cup qualifying game against Austria on Friday evening.
One more win will secure a playoff berth and with Zlatan Ibrahimovich in their side - remember that goal against England this year? - anything can happen.
And a propos of nothing, as I was waiting for my airport bus last night, I looked at an enormous poster, it must have been 100m wide, advertising a skiing company.
Among the usual list of France, Austria and Switzerland, right at the end, was, er, Iran. Skiing holidays for Swedes in Iran?
I hadn't thought of that one, but it turns out a fair number of Iranians settled in Sweden after the 1979 revolution in their homeland.
The situation appears to have thawed to allow travel and as someone pointed out to me today, if you can ski in Lebanon, why not Iran?
Sweden looks to reinforce UK ties
08 Oct 2013 17:11
I've often believed Swedes and the Brits to be of fairly similar ilk - hewn from the same northern granite and all that - a thought reinforced again this afternoon as I was changing some Sterling at the airport for my trip to the Scandinavian Annual Suppliers (FKG) Forum in Gothenburg.
Completely on automatic I asked for ubiquitous Euros only to realise with a start, that of course, Sweden has resolutely stuck to its beloved Krona just as the UK has held out for its historic pound. Some instant, nifty footwork from the teller enabled a Euro/Krona transaction and I was on my way.
That singularity of identity - which the UK also shows in bucketloads when it comes to Europe and which extends from football to politics - replete with a hefty dose of Scandi State liberalism mind - has nonetheless led to the FKG expressing great admiration for the UK approach to manufacturing and in particular the government/industry powerhouse that is the Automotive Council.
To that end, the UK will be represented at this week's conference by Trade & Investment technology specialist, John Kell and the FKG is looking hard across the North Sea to see how the British have seemingly bucked the Europe-wide gloomy trend during the downturn and posted some remarkable performances.
As such, this year's FKG Forum theme is "New Market Opportunities" and given the imminent reboot of Saab under the auspices of National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), coupled with better news from Volvo, the conference will look at ways to lever Scandinavian suppliers' clout in a Europe recovering achingly slowly from this grim recession.
I transited across the North Sea today via Amsterdam - an airport of staggering size and complexity - and which even at 15:00 was a maelstrom of humanity striving to get from A to B.
My connection to Sweden was very much on the tight side and as I weaved through Schiphol, I pondered, not for the first time, just why people get on travelators, presumably to move more quickly, only to grind to a complete halt, two abreast.
One such pair was calmly drinking one of those expensive, fancy dan coffee concoctions, breezily chewing the fat about, well, who knows, but rapidly moved across as they saw me bearing down at a rate of knots.
It should be an interesting day tomorrow, with a train trip north in the morning from Gothenburg to see the reinvigorated Saab in its Trollhatten citadel and whose canny owners have made very sure that iconic name and brand remain very much to the fore. I'll also be curious to see if there's a better mood of optimism in the town, given the understandably downbeat assessment last time I was there, following Saab's traumas.
It's a meeting with Volvo back in Gothenburg after that before the FKG dinner tomorrow night and the conference proper on Thursday.
FKG managing director, Fredrik Sidahl, recently told me there was "light in the tunnel" for his members, echoing a cautious mood of restrained optimism prevalent across northern Europe, while it seems the Swedish government has cottoned on to its UK counterparts and is looking at research programmes and tax relief as just some of the ways to support the auto sector.
I might need some of that tax relief myself looking at my newly converted Krone - I remember staring agog at various taxi meters and food receipts last time - Sweden is one pricey country.
But despite that determination to remain staunchly Swedish I mentioned before, the country still appears to come under some Brussels influence. I needed to show my passport at Amsterdam, but not on arrival here at Gothenburg airport, from where I'm filing this waiting for my bus to the city centre. Does Sweden adhere to the Schengen agreement? I asked at the airport, but couldn't find someone who knew.
To continue the UK-Sweden connection, I was surprised to see one of my football team, Southampton's, old stalwarts, Anders Svensson, still turning out for for his country recently.
He played for ages for us, so as a symbol of longevity, he's doing pretty well, just as perhaps, the Swedish auto manufacturers and suppliers seem to be after a tough old time.
Powering future engineers
19 Jul 2013 15:08
Battersea Power Station was the dramatic backdrop to the Royal Academy of Engineering Awards in London
Wednesday (17 July) this week saw the Royal Academy of Engineering Awards Dinner in London, but not at just any old venue.
The esteemed Academy held its bash at London's iconic Battersea Power Station and Bosch kindly invited me along.
Knights of the realm were in large supply as was Princess Anne and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who gave a much wittier speech than his public persona would suggest.
I used to live nearish to Battersea Power Station for many years and lost count of the times such and such a rescue plan was mooted for this - now decommissioned - enormous building.
Well, it seems finally that concrete moves are afoot to rebuild the station - complete with an eye-watering 3,500 flats - but retain the instantly-recogniseable four towers that adorn each corner.
Regeneration and infrastructure projects were quite a theme on the night - possibly one of the warmest I have ever spent in London - the UK is undergoing something of a heatwave at the moment - and indeed plans are being made to even extend an underground line to Battersea - if and when - the project is finished.
And as a by the by, one award recipient mused how in the arts world, people could reel off writers, musicians, poets, etc, but that when it came to engineering, the opposite was almost true.
Maybe in UK engineering folklore, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, for his railway revolution and Alec Issigonis, with the Mini, spring to mind, but few in the wider world outside manufacturing could easily identify many more.
How do we put engineering back at the heart of what people in the UK want to do as a career? Not an easy one.
Respected passenger comrades
11 Apr 2013 09:21
First day proper of the Russian Automotive Forum (RAF) in Moscow and we started bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first thing with a series of presentations by Russian government officials from Kaluga, Sverdlovsk and the Duma Parliament in Moscow.
The traffic in the Russian capital was a hot topic of conversation among the delegates during tea before the conference started and despite swapping tales of nightmare taxi journeys there is one extraordinary aspect of the Russian capital that merits praise.
There are almost no potholes. I can't quite believe it myself but having tramped around a fair bit of the city, it's true. It's even more unbelievable that for a capital city, Moscow must endure one of the harshest climates there is, but I hardly saw a single pothole.
Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev's dramatic call for the great and the good of the Russian auto business to high-tail it to Nizhny Novgorod - home to GAZ Group 250 miles east of Moscow - meant a hasty redrawing of the speaker schedule - but the replacements were of very good quality and demonstrated some fancy footwork in stepping in at the last minute.
Former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher's death yesterday has led to saturation coverage on all the TVs on in the World Trade Centre where the RAF is taking place - Russians asked me if I had heard the news and the fact Muscovites are talking about a politician who stepped down more than 20 years ago, shows the sheer power of her ideas and influence, whether you agree with her or not.
Ford Sollers CEO, Ted Cannis took to the stage, followed by Royal Air Force pilot and World Land Speed Record holder, Andy Green, for a presentation on his Bulldog project which aims to see him travel at er, 1,000mph on the ground.
I also had a one-to-one with General Motors director, supply chain and purchasing , Peter Layer and Jean-Christophe Marchal, general manager of PCMA, the Russian collaboration between PSA (70%) and Mitsubishi (30%) in Russia.
Sberbank organised a cocktail reception - replete with the chance to win a diamond - I didn't to add to my proud list of almost never having won anything - and it was a terrific chance to network.
The RAF had set up tall tables - just as CLEPA does in Brussels - and it makes for extremely good opportunities to chat in a hospitable atmosphere where folk can move around easily.
I'm at Domodedovo Airport now on the outskirts of Moscow and there's a roll-call of 'Stan' airlines being announced: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, all to exotic-sounding destinations such as Osh, Bishkek and Tashkent.
I'm off to the slightly more prosaically named Munich - nonetheless a fascinating city in itself and then back to Birmingham.
Aeroflot apparently used to address its customers as:"Respected Passenger Comrades." I shouldn't think Lufthansa will do the same but I rather like the old way of calling people by a collective - it feels well - more Russian.
Russia springs back
09 Apr 2013 11:24
Moscow's long dark winter finally appears to be inching towards an end - evidence of which can be seen - and heard - by the audible cracking of the ice in the mighty Moskva River as Russia emerges from its deep freeze into spring.
I'm here for the Russian Automotive Forum (RAF) at the World Trade Centre and took a couple of hours to wander around this incredible city - where every stone seems to ooze history - good and bad.
Just a snapshot of how business has to think on its feet in Russia was news of the RAF having to radically revamp its speaker line-up after several CEOs were abruptly called to Nizhny Novgorod at the behest of Prime Minister - recently President - Dimitri Medvedev.
When the government calls like that, you get on the first available aircraft and although it's not clear yet what the summons was for, people tell me here it's certainly not unusual for events to change that rapidly.
A sign of Moscow's - and Russia's - extraordinary resurgence - is its grid-locked streets whose choking tragic is causing the city fathers - and me - some serious grief - so I took a deep breath and tried the huge Metro network yesterday.
It's fair to say as someone used to the London and Paris underground systems, the Moscow Metro is like nowhere else on earth. This is a subterranean marvel of imposing pillars, dramatic chandeliers and mosaics, an Aladdin's cave, that, given its Stalinist-era construction in 1935, is a complete show-stopper, replete with redoubtable Russian ladies at the bottom of escalators scrutinising all travellers.
That didn't prevent me becoming hopelessly confused by its Cyrillic alphabet mind but up sprang a helpful Muscovite to make sense of my map - and ticket - and not only take me to my destination but show me the vast Soviet war memorial at Park Pobedi (Victory Park) whose Metro station is reputed to have the world's longest escalator, which I can well believe. My helpful guide showed me through the Metro system, while his unofficial and knowledgeable tour of the Soviet memorial, he was previously in the military as so many in Russia, was fascinating. The kindness of strangers indeed.
The Germans were only 50km from Moscow apparently and the cost of that Great Patriotic War as they call it here - as well as Napoleon's 1812 retreat from the capital - are inscribed on walls, bridges and monuments everywhere.
I was also shown the stunning Russian Orthodox church of St George the Victorious - whose gold cupolas are echoed in every unlikely nook and cranny of Moscow - and I miraculously made my way back on the Metro - suddenly conscious people were staring at my 'Michigan' hoodie - purchased at Troy, Detroit's Walmart for US$12 if you please - to trendy Arbatskaya and then on foot to Krasnaya Ploshad or Red Square.
I was suddenly aware just in front of the Kremlin that the usual roar of endless traffic had abruptly halted and in fact was being held back by squadrons of police vehicles. The eerie silence - only replicated earlier by the war memorial - was now well and truly broken by the wailing of sirens and a motorcade of huge proportions. Nearby Russians said it was President Putin - who knows - but it's a sure bet the limo with blacked out windows was not going to be burdened with anything as trivial as Moscow's horrendous car jams.
I was looking at the Kremlin walls in front of which so many Soviet leaders and the Politburo had witnessed countless Red Square military parades - and sent a shiver down western spines to boot in the increasingly cold war - when a text came through of Baroness Thatcher's death - a poignantly apt place to hear of the news given the former British Prime Minister's role in fighting the extremes of communism.
And just a small footnote to show how far Moscow - and Russia - is powering ahead - not only in its traditional staples of oil and gas - but in business in general. As we landed at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, I saw a British Airways 747 parked on the ramp.
A Boeing 747? For a three and a half hour flight from London? This is clearly a place - to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher - to do business.
Addendum: I wrote this in the famous Ukraina Hotel - one of the so-called 'Seven Sisters' gargantuan wedding cake structures in Moscow instituted by Stalin and which sits on the dramatic bend in the Moskva River.
There's an enormous 1:75 model of Moscow - or 'Capital of the USSR' as the audio guide tells me - that must be 20 feet across.
The USSR might be no more, but Russia's resurgence is everywhere to see.
Belgian Ministry of Truth
28 Feb 2013 17:18
Day three of my Brussels visit and I was summoned by Belgian union, ABVV, the largest of Ford of Europe's Genk labour bodies, for an interview to discuss the latest plant update.
Ford plans to close its Genk plant with the loss of around 4,300 immediate jobs, but some research suggests this figure could soar to more than 11,000 once the supply chain impact is taken into account.
I was told by ABVV provincial union leader, Rohnny Champagne, to make my way to the exit of Brussels South station, that cavernous building where the Eurostar decants passengers from London and on leaving, I saw Rohnny waving at me from the enormous Ministry of Labour building where the Ford talks are taking place.
The Ministry of Labour is as huge as its Orwellian name suggests - I couldn't get Ministry of Truth out of my head - and that in a city whose small size nonetheless contains myriad vast superstructures - and this was no exception.
Talks are at a crucial stage with the unions - three of them - asking for significantly improved redundancy terms from Ford - with both parties now undergoing government arbitration in a bid to thrash out a deal for the thousands of workers facing redundancy.
ABVV represents around 150,000 workers in Belgium - mostly in the metalworking business - and the Limberg region where Ford Genk is situated looks to be hit hard when the axe finally falls on the factory.
Of no little import either is the fact that Champagne's Limberg region - of which he is ABVV leader - will lose around 2,000 of its 15,000 members. When you consider union dues are around EUR15 per month per employee, that's no small consideration for the labour body, which has to make its own ends meet.
I got a taxi to Brussels South station - and the impact of plunging Sterling really hits home - it's pretty much £1 to EUR1 now - which suddenly makes Brussels - and Europe - a lot pricier than it has been.
The taxi drove down what seems to be on of several gigantic motorways that carve straight through the city - a bizarre sight that makes crossing the road challenging although the law-abiding Belgians wait stoically until the green man appears.
Brussels is such a hotch-potch of architecture - encompassing just about every style going - that it's impossible to pigeon-hole as having a single, overriding feel to it.
Just as the hundreds of nations gathered here to do business with the European Commission - its buildings too reflect a dozen wildly different impressions. If there is perhaps one theme among the gargantuan edifices, it is art deco, which rears its head in some of the most surprising places.
Just a snapshot of how international this place is through football. I wanted to watch the tasty Bayern Munich v Dortmund German Cup - or DFB Pokel or 'Pot' as they call it.
In the place I found that was showing the German game, they also had PSG v Olympic Marseille and Middlesbrough v Chelsea, all with their own contingents of vocal supporters.
I'm at Brussels Airport now, waiting for the flight home and am reflecting on what an extraordinary place Brussels is. Love it or loathe it, the world beats a path to its door because if you want any influence, you absolutely have to be here.
CLEPA draws big hitters
27 Feb 2013 16:58
To Brussels where the European automotive suppliers association - CLEPA - held its Annual Reception last night in the grand Concert Noble building a stone's throw from where I'm staying.
This is an event that attracts some serious big hitters - not the least of whom were not one but two European Union Commissioners in the shape of Trade and Climate Change and whose presence indicates the clout that CLEPA wields in the Belgian capital.
I interviewed CLEPA CEO, Jean-Marc Gales, as well as French supplier body, FIEV, president, Claude Cham. As a former Dunlop staffer, he had some interesting views on the somewhat trenchant opinions expressed by Titan CEO, Maurice Taylor last week, on the efficiency or otherwise of the French workforce.
There must have been good few hundred people at the event and as a networking opportunity, it's hard to beat, especially as CLEPA arranges the evening not as a formal dinner, but as a stand-up buffet, allowing everyone to mingle freely.
Afterwards, I managed to catch the end of the Barcelona-Real Madrid Copa del Rey game, which ended in a surprisingly comfortable win for Jose Mourinho's team and which was watched by a huge number of people in the establishment I found.
Asking directions to it was an interesting experience and indeed getting around what is currently a freezing and grey Brussels presents something of a linguistic challenge. If you can muster up a bit of French, that generally does the trick, but in almost all cases, the people I asked turned out not to be Belgian at all.
The polyglot nature of the city means almost everyone seems to be connected either with the European Commission itself or is based there because so many EC institutions are to be found in Brussels.
One lady sent me completely the wrong way and on seeing me trudge back, instead of whipping out an A to Z as I might in the UK, she flourished her iPAd and pointed me in the right direction. Such is progress I suppose.
I'm writing this now in the foyer of the IndustriALL pan-European trade union organisation, who I'm seeing shortly before heading off to ACEA to chew the fat on the state of the Continent's automotive market with its secretary general, Ivan Hodac.
I've just spoken to the ABVV trade union, who are in the middle of delicate negotiations with Ford of Europe surrounding its plans to shut the Genk plant with thousands of redundancies and have arranged to see them tomorrow in a break in their talks before heading back home via Manchester.
Just as an aside, I had my first look at the new Golf yesterday on display in the arrivals hall at Brussels Airport. As a driver of a somewhat ancient Golf myself, I was intrigued to see what VW had done with the new model and it looked very smart.
And talking of airports - Brussels has a huge number of - very good - travelators to whisk passengers around and given its vast distance you need them.
So why do some people get on the things and then grind to a halt? Bizarre.