A NORTH-EAST manufacturer, which supplies some of the world's biggest car makers, has invested £15m to safeguard its long term future.  

TRW is funding two new production lines at its Houghton-le-Spring factory to build the next generation of power steering motors.

American-owned TRW's North-East plant supplies VW, General Motors and Ford, with smaller contracts with Fiat and Volvo.  As some of these contracts are now nearing completion the company has been working hard to win new international customers, with significant success.

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Despite being located close to Nissan Sunderland, Britain's largest car plant, the one major car manufacturer that TRW does not supply is the Japanese company. But the ambitious company has won Renault as a customer, and it is growing its business with GM.

The two new lines and platforms for Renault and GM will replace two of the existing lines, and bring cutting edge technology to the plant. TRW will produce more efficient, compact motors to suit the future needs of its customers. The first line will be installed later this year and the second will be in place by the end of 2014.

Maciej Gwozdz, TRW's European operations director for steering this week announced the investment on the shopfloor to the Rainton Bridge Industrial Estate plant's 250 workers.

He said: "This investment underpins the long-term future of the Sunderland plant and means we can invest in innovative technology to build more efficient low carbon systems for automotive manufacturers."

Paul Willson, plant controller at TRW's plant said: "We're delighted with this major investment in our facilities.  It means we can secure international customers such as Renault and GM and begin to look at other opportunities with the new products.

"We're also proud that we're achieving success in new markets - for example supplying motor companies in China from Sunderland to complement the work of TRW Asia Pacific. We just wouldn't be able to do this without the valued commitment of our workforce.  We have a fantastic team here at Sunderland whose productivity is a vital part of our future success."

The investment follows its successful bid to the government's Regional Growth Fund (RGF) for £1.75m. Sunderland City Council's business investment team worked with the firm on its RGF submission and helped it develop a laboratory.

Mr Willson said: "We're developing electric motors and it was critically important to us to be able to look at current technology, assess gaps in the marketplace and develop products for new applications to fill that gap.

"With the City Council's much-valued support we've been able to build our R&D resources, and we're already having some success in developing new products. We've got the ideas and the ability to develop innovative products, which differentiate us from our competitors and have already generated significant interest from our customers."

Councillor Harry Trueman, Deputy Leader of Sunderland City Council said:
"TRW is a global leader in the automotive industry, and we've supported the company since it set up in Sunderland.  Its successful RGF bid has led to confirmation of a £15m investment, which is the best possible news for the city and wider region.

"Our support for TRW's R&D facilities will reinforce its ability to compete for and win global contracts, which are key to its future."