Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 08.56.49The North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) is starting 2016 as the fastest growing cluster in the UK and is on course to become the largest automotive cluster this year.

NEAA CEO, Paul Butler, said: “Just eight months after it was established, the industry-led group has smashed its own membership target of 100 for 2015 and now has 110 members drawn from sector giants including Nissan and Komatsu UK, to tier one suppliers and SME component manufacturers.

“The UK’s biggest automotive cluster group, the Welsh Automotive Forum, set up in 2001, has 126 members, and the NEAA is on course to overtake it to become the biggest with a target of 200 members in 2016. “

“All the top performing clusters across Europe are industry-led and we have followed those examples of best practice. Industry leadership ensures that we focus and collaborate to address areas of concern and on those opportunities that offer the region the best opportunities.”

During 2015, the NEAA has established three working groups focused on areas offering the greatest potential for growth. The business excellence group is working on benchmarking and sharing best practice through site visits; the skills group is concentrating on attracting future workforce through school engagement, apprenticeships, graduate recruitment and upskilling the current workforce; and the innovation and technology group working towards a knowledge-based regional innovation system which stimulates and supports the generation of new products and process technology.

Paul Butler said: “We have more than 100 industrialists are working together through our leadership team and working groups, this is extremely powerful and how the NEAA is able to make such an impact in a very short time.”

Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nissan’s Vice President for Manufacturing, UK Operations, said: “Great things are happening in the North East’s automotive sector and the NEAA has hit the floor running since its launch in March. It now offers support and strategic direction across three key strands – skills, business excellence and innovation.”

Paul Blanchard, Manufacturing Director, Komatsu UK, added: “The NEAA’s business excellence activity is proving to be of great benefit to Komatsu UK.”

“It creates shop floor visits to members’ plants involved in similar manufacturing techniques, to help us all see the advantages of the application of new technology to improve efficiency. This can only strengthen the performance of the region’s automotive and manufacturing sectors, and it is being driven by NEAA.”

Peter Watson, Plant Manager, R-TEK and Chair of the Business Excellence group explained “A level of horizontal communication is now taking place between suppliers which has remained closed for the last 2 decades. The Business Excellence activity has definitely won the trust of suppliers based on the principle that we share best practice and not trade secrets.”

In the New Year, the NEAA will be setting up a forth working group – Trade and Investment, to introduce members to key international markets and boost the regions strong automotive exports. It will be attending the main automotive trade show in Japan in May, with SMMT and UKTI, aiming to establish good relations and facilitate trade through strong cluster links.

Paul Butler said: “Japan is obviously one of the key industry markets, but the North East is also very well connected with Europe and well placed to export its products.

“We want to encourage members to take part in more international trade, because it makes them much more competitive. Research shows that companies are about 30 per cent more productive if they are trading internationally.”

Growing the SME supply chain in the North East has been a major focus of the NEAA. The initial SME programme surpassed its original targets of supporting 20 SMEs, safeguarding 15 jobs and creating 10 new jobs, with support for 27 businesses, securing 30 jobs and creating 11 more. The NEAA will build upon this success during 2016 with the launch of its ACE SME programme which will receive £1.3 million over three years from the European Regional Development Fund and aims to work with 150 SMEs to improve their competitiveness and productivity.”

Alan Harold of Active Composites said: “The NEAA is a breath of fresh air in its support for SMEs. In all my dealings they’ve proved to be dynamic, enthusiastic and show a genuine interest in Active Composites. I believe they will prove to be a fantastic resource as we progress and grow.”

Nick Morton, MD, MICC, added “The NEAA SME offering has exceeded my expectations. Through the diagnostic and best practice visits we have been able to make improvements that are beneficial to the company and build our automotive way of thinking.”

In September the NEAA held its first NE Automotive Expo. The event was opened by Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton and attracted 340 delegates from over 200 companies. One key aspect of the event was the 140 meet the buyer meeting which took place with 15 buyers from Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover, Komatsu, Gestamp, Lear, Faltec, Calsonic, Nifco and Faurecia.

Chris Hutchinson, general manager of the Bignall Group in Shildon, said: “Meet the Buyer was an excellent event where we met a number of potential clients and received enquiries the following day, who we’ve quoted and engaged with. From an exhibitor’s point of view, it was a very good set up with impressive footfall.” 

The collaborative approach adopted by the NEAA has been an essential component in its success this year. Bringing the network together and providing effective communication platforms has allowed companies of all sizes to connect and generate new business and collaboration opportunities.

Paul Butler added “This year has been a fantastic success. This is down to a great team and the forward thinking companies within the sector who have grasped the cluster concept. It is great to see so many companies now working together to better the regions automotive sector and we look forward to building on this success throughout 2016.”