Automotive business & UK manufacturing looking up

June 21st: With Nicky Denning of Jaguar/Land Rover at the SMMT event in Brussels

Last night I attended a briefing dinner given by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) in Brussels.  They confirmed that despite the continuing fragile economy, most auto companies in the UK were quietly confident, with major new investments proposed by Nissan, BMW/Mini and Jaguar/Land Rover.

I had the pleasure of being seated next to Nicky Denning, who represents Jaguar/Land Rover in Brussels.  Walking up the Rue Luxembourg towards to the venue, I had seen a stunning new Jaguar XJ parked, with the letters “JAG” prominently in the number plate — Nicky had been driving it (and well done her for finding a parking slot!).

Jaguar has seen a huge turnaround since the depths of the crisis in 2008, when they applied to the then Labour government for assistance, but wisely rejected the onerous terms offered by Peter Mandelson.  Jaguar made a record profit last year, and sales go from strength to strength,

I must admit that I had had some reservations when the Indian firm Tata took over Jaguar.  I am not sure that the takeover of Lotus by the Malaysian company Proton was an unalloyed benefit for either company, and I feared the same for Jaguar (although to be fair the Jaguar deal is on an altogether larger scale).

But Tata seems to have increased the global reach of Jaguar’s marketing, while their commitment to new product development is exemplary.  I tried to draw Nicky Denning on the question of the projected smaller Jaguar sports car rumoured in the press — would it be like the BMW Z car, I asked?  But she wouldn’t be drawn.

The SMMT expressed its concerns about training, apprenticeships and the availability of skills for the industry.  This fits neatly with the Coalition’s thinking on redressing the balance in tertiary education away from over-emphasis on universities and towards vocational courses, skills and apprenticeships.  This is a critically important area, and I know that the Minister responsible, John Hayes MP, is taking it very seriously.

Jaguar alone is looking to recruit a thousand new engineers in the UK.  I just hope they can find them.

I am scheduled to visit the Jaguar plant at Castle Bromwich plant in July, along with my colleague Godfrey Bloom MEP.  I also plan to take my brother-in-law, a former Jaguar apprentice (many years ago).  I can’t wait to see the next stage of the Jaguar saga.

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