North East Connected

Celebrating automotive excellence in the North East of England

Best Western Roker Hotel, Sunderland. The North East’s brightest youngsters and best companies from the region’s automotive sector have been recognised at the inaugural NEAA Annual Awards with MAKE it Sunderland as headline sponsors.

Cllr Harry Trueman, Deputy Leader, Sunderland City Council who presented the Special Recognition Award, sponsored by MAKE it Sunderland said:

“With more than 240 companies operating in the region, 25 of which are tier one suppliers, the North East has built, and continues to grow its reputation in the global automotive industry.  We are witnessing unprecedented levels of productivity, investment and collaboration, so there is plenty to celebrate; we are delighted to have been Main Sponsor for the inaugural NEAA Annual Awards”.

240 industry guests attended the inaugural event where £18,000 was awarded in support of the region’s future automotive talent. The key note speech was provided by Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the SMMT.

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive, The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said:

“The automotive industry probably faces more challenges – simultaneously – than any other sector with electrification of vehicles, connected and autonomous cars, digitalisation of manufacturing and disrupters. Automotive companies from the North East and across the UK must face these challenges and exploit the opportunities they create and that means investing in technology, in facilities and, especially, in people. The award winners tonight are exemplars of that approach and are credit to the industry. The fundamentals of UK automotive manufacturing remain strong and there are many more companies delivering innovation and excellence. Continuous improvement is essential if we are to ensure the UK remains a global centre for automotive excellence.”

The NEAA Annual Award winners 2018 were:

The Apprentice of the Year Award went to Alex Park of Nifco UK for his outstanding academic ability, early career progression and promotion of the industry to the younger generation.  Chris Davis of Gestamp Tallent and Rhys Goulden of Unipress collected Runners Up awards.  The Graduate of the Year Award went to Virginia Elton of Calsonic Kansei who has quickly become a fully integrated valuable member of Calsonic’s Production Engineering Team

Virginia (Ginny) Elton, Production Engineer, Calsonic Kansei said

“It was an exceptionally proud moment for me to win graduate of the year, and nice to be recognised for the work I have done so far.  I still have a lot of experience to gain and look forward to what the future brings. The evening itself was a fabulous evening which I thoroughly enjoyed”.

Alex and Virginia walked away with £1,000 cheques whilst Chris and Rhys received £500 each.

Whilst all other winners and runners up donated their winnings of over £15,000 straight to North East STEM projects or local schools in support of automotive or STEM projects with the aim of raising awareness of future career opportunities within the automotive sector

NEAA Chief Executive, Paul Butler said:

“The inaugural NEAA Annual Award awards is an occasion to showcase automotive excellence here in the North East of England and to celebrate company success and individual winners. The level of entries into these awards and the quality of our winners really does reaffirm the regions position as a global centre of excellence for automotive manufacturing.

“It’s vitally important for the future success of the sector that we have the right quality skills coming through the system and that we recognise and develop our future talent. With that in mind I was delighted that thanks to the support of our sponsors we have been able to award over £18,000 in support of future talent and STEM projects.”  

Mike Mathews MBE, Managing Director of Nifco UK, winner of the Outstanding Contribution Award, said:

“It’s a real honour to be recognised by my peers at these awards, a first for the North East Automotive Alliance, and an event which was perfectly executed – celebrating long-servers like me, right through to the industry’s emerging talent in apprentices. The North East of England is home to a world class automotive sector, one which competes with the whole world – and these awards are not only a celebration of the people and businesses making this happen, but of the fantastic cluster of advanced manufacturers that are helping to put the North East on the map as a thriving automotive hub.”

The awards evening was gratefully sponsored by MAKE it Sunderland, Bradley O’Mahoney Public Relations, South Tyneside Council, North East LEP, RTC North, University of Sunderland, Comau, Gateshead College and Resource Management Solutions.



Special Recognition Award, sponsored by MAKE it Sunderland

Winner – Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK)


Kevin Fitzpatrick is an automotive grand master and a shining example of somebody who has risen through the ranks to become Divisional Vice President – European Manufacturing.  Kevin has spearheaded the production of a first new car brand in the UK in 23 years with Infiniti, and of the first and second generation of the world’s best-selling electric vehicle – the LEAF.  Has seen the production of three million award winning Qashaqi’s – the most successful model in Europe in Nissan’s history.  Kevin has been instrumental in the formation, and continues to chair, the NEAA having recognised how a cluster could further significantly develop the regions automotive sector.  It’s been a 30-year career at Nissan so far, and we hope it will continue for many years to come!


School Engagement Award, sponsored by Invest South Tyneside

Winner – Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK)

Beneficiary – F1 in Schools


Launched in 2014 the Nissan Skills Foundation (NSF) is designed to encourage young people to take up Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and to generate excitement about careers in industry by offering a unique insight into the world of manufacturing and engineering.  In just over three years’ the Foundation has actively engaged with 350 schools from across the region, including some in the most deprived areas in the UK. In December 2017, Nissan announced that the initiative had reached more than 30,000 children from across the region.  Nissan also runs annual activities for nine special schools, enabling over 450 people with severe physical and mental disabilities to take part.


Apprentice Award, sponsored by North East LEP

Winner – Alexander Park, Nifco UK


Alex is a professional, committed and driven individual – a real star with a bright future. During his time at Nifco UK he quickly established himself as enthusiastic and commitment, fully trained, fully experienced colleague.  He has handled large, business-changing projects and supported the day-to-day running of the department.  His has taken his experience and demonstrated his enthusiasm for the sector by visiting local Schools and Colleges to share his experiences in helping the students with their career making decision processes; Alex has also supplement his work based learning via the Festival of Ingenuity held in Darlington; which profiles engineering and the routes into engineering to local school children and residents. He is a true Ambassador for Apprenticeships.


Graduate Award, sponsored by North East LEP

Winner – Virginia Elton, Calsonc Kansei


Ginny Graduated at Durham University with a 2:1 MEng Honours Degree in General Engineering, before proceeding onto her 3-year Graduate Development Programme with Calsonic.  During her Development Programme she supported the launch of the new Q3O Infiniti Model before moving to become the Lead Engineer for designing and installing new Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning Units Facilities, required for Qashqai major volume increase. She has continued her development via formal training programmes along with informal development via her work colleagues, which have enabled her to become a fully integrated valuable member of Calsonic’s Production Engineering Team.


Scale up Business Award, sponsored by RTC North

Winner – AVID Technology Group

Beneficiary – Big Bang North East


AVID is a trail blazer and respected industry leader with 12 years experience in the field of systems electrification and hybridisation, whose mission is to save the plant one vehicle at a time.  AVID has seen sustained growth and now employ 60 people from 14 in 2014. Recent investment to expand its HQ facilities has increased its manufacturing capabilities to enable the company to meet increased market demand and to diversify into new and emerging sectors.  During 2017, AVID was selected to work on a £20m government-funded clean-tech environmental project. AVID has also secured several electrification systems development contracts with major OEMs in PV, CV and Off-Highway markets that will each lead to multi-million pound manufacturing business from 2018 onwards.  Diversification has seen the company move into the shipping industry, robotics, aerospace and renewables thanks to increased demands for high power density electrical propulsion and actuation systems.

This year AVID has seen its pipeline grow from £50 million to in excess of £200 million.


Innovation Award, sponsored by University of Sunderland

Winner – Hyperdrive Technology

Beneficiary – Big Bang North East  


Hyperdrive Innovation is an electrification partner that brings to the market clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels. Hyperdrive was the first company in the world to secure the supply of Nissan’s LEAF lithium-ion battery technology for its own commercial products, and holds key intellectual property which puts Hyperdrive at the forefront of technical advances. Today their modular battery packs are present in automotive passenger and municipal vehicles, airport ground fleet, autonomous pods and warehouse robots.

In addition to electric vehicles, Hyperdrive’s products provide portable power and stationary battery arrays. Their new Battery Management System allows modules to be connected to increase voltage and capacity. Innovations such as their modular battery pack for home battery energy storage is set to capitalise on a 600% increase in installed capacity by 2020 as it offers the opportunity to scale-up dispersed energy storage capacity and maximize local energy use in a fully connected home energy network.


Trade and Investment Award, sponsored by Comau UK

Winner – AVID Technology Group

Beneficiary – Big Bang North East


AVID are a leader in the design and manufacture of electrified powertrain and advanced thermal management systems for heavy-duty/ high-performance electric vehicles (EV)/ hybrid vehicles (HEV).  AVID’s products can be found on every hybrid and electric bus and truck manufactured in Europe; and their ability to support customer programs from prototype development to series production is demonstrated through their growing global customer base – and this market is set to grow rapidly as Governments across the globe have announced their intention to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars in the future. In addition, increased demand for their technology in two key global sectors, robotics and aerospace have resulted in AVID securing a number of lucrative overseas contracts and an influx of new enquiries from North America, Europe and Asia.  Today overseas sales account for 30% of AVID’s revenue and over the next 5 years the company is expecting to increase sales to over £200 million – with exports being a major part of this growth.


Business Competitiveness Award, sponsored by Gateshead College

Winner – Adient UK

Beneficiary – Primary Engineer   


Process Improvement – Adient are actively moving forward with their Industry 4.0 Initiatives in their Adient Manufacturing system (AMS) and their future competitive strategy with a high focus on the use of AGV’s and digital line replenishment.

Financial Impact – Adient have adopted a high level of focus on their in-house efficiency improvements which have had the added bonus of improving employee engagement and had a positive effect on staff turnover and non- attendance.

Quality Improvement – Adient’s quality improvement activity has led to over 50% improvement in internal and external quality. Both achieved from already excellent quality level of performance.

Collaboration – Adient have consistently collaborated within the spirit of the NEAA, leading and actively participating in focus groups, hosting Best Practice visits and sharing knowledge and supporting the NEAA industry 4.0 visit to the factory of the future.


Outstanding Contribution Award, sponsored by Resource Management Solutions NE

Winner –  Mike Matthews MBE, Nifco

Beneficiaries –Egglescliffe School and Bishopsgarth School

Mike has dedicated his career of more than 30 years to the automotive industry, 29 of which have been with Nifco UK. Mike has constantly sought new challenges and ways to improve not only his own skillset but also the wider industry and in 2008 became Managing Director of Nifco UK, transforming the loss-making business to one that now turns over more than £78 million.  Mike has been an ambassador for the North East Automotive sector and has been a long-standing member of the Automotive Council and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Here in the North East Mike was a member of the North East Skills Alliance for Advanced Manufacturing (NESAM); and was a pivotal figure in the establishment of the NEAA having instigated discussions between the automotive industry and NEPIC, an exemplary cluster for the Chemical industry.  Today Mike is the Vice Chair and an Executive Board member of the NEAA. In June 2015 Mike also became President of the North East England Chamber of Commerce and he used this role to promote the North East Automotive industry and the skills needed for its future.

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