A MAJOR new body to promote and support the growth of the region’s £7bn automotive industry officially opens for business today.

The North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) is an industry-led organisation which brings together major names including Nissan, Nifco, Komatsu, Sevcon and Hyperdrive.

Prior to its launch, the NEAA carried out the first in depth research into the scale and importance of the automotive sector to the region. The industry generates £7bn in sales for the North-East, is responsible for £5.1bn in exports and creates a £2.6bn trade surplus annually.

In the last five years, more than £1bn in regional investment has been made into 21 automotive projects in the North-East.

The sector directly employs 26,000 people and impacts on a further 141,000 jobs. Potentially, 10,000 additional jobs could be created in the next five to 10 years.

Around 8,500 people in the industry are due to retire during that period, leaving skills gaps. This is one of the areas NEAA will be working to address, alongside understanding the region’s capabilities and gaps in the supply chain; carrying out benchmarking and sharing best practice, innovation and technology; and promoting the North-East’s automotive excellence to the global market.

Speakers at the fully-booked launch event at Nissan Sunderland plant include Kevin Fitzpatrick, chair of NEAA and Nissan’s vice president for manufacturing in the UK, Lawrence Davies, deputy chief executive of the Automotive Investment Organisation, Iain Wright MP, Paul Butler, chief executive of NEAA, and Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council.

Attracting new companies and jobs to the region, supporting business excellence and best practice and providing strategic leadership to grow the industry is at the heart of the new network. It will also provide benchmarking, help companies to boost efficiency and reduce costs, and work to increase the region’s competitiveness in this key sector. NEAA is offering membership to businesses in the sector ranging from multinationals to sole traders.

The Sunderland-headquartered organisation has appointed cluster-management specialist Paul Butler as its chief executive. Mr Butler is the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis, an organisation mandated by the European Commission to promote cluster management excellence, and he is the UK’s only benchmarking expert for the UK. Prior to his appointment Mr Butler spent almost a decade on the management team of one of Europe’s leading clusters, the North East Process Industry Cluster (Nepic).

He said: “In February last year, we had a meeting with key North-East automotive businesses and invited the North West Automotive Alliance across to talk to us. That meeting spurned an appetite within the sector to create our own cluster.

“Many regions across the EU are organised in such a way. 150 people will be attending Friday’s event, which is further proof of the enthusiasm within the broader automotive sector.

“A whole range of businesses and organisations have already signed up to the cluster from large manufacturers, tier-one suppliers to single-person suppliers, legal, financial, and academic organisations.

“People attending the launch event will be able to find out what the cluster is all about, how it can benefit their business and hopefully they will join too.”

NEAA members will immediately benefit from the promotion of the North East automotive sector’s capabilities on regional, national and international levels and the network’s ability to connect the supply chain to business opportunities. They will have access to a comprehensive website with a dedicated members’ area to share knowledge, information and collaborative projects.

Regional events, workshops and newsletters will also connect members to potential funds and inform them of new industry issues. Plus, members will be able to access cost-saving schemes for insurance, international payments and initiatives allowing them to buy materials at better rates.

Nissan’s Vice President for Manufacturing in the UK, Kevin Fitzpatrick, has been appointed to chair the NEAA. He said: “There are many opportunities ahead for companies in the automotive industry in North East England to win new business in the UK and from overseas and to improve their competitiveness and capability. The North East Automotive Alliance will provide the platform for making sure companies in the North East are able to take full advantage.”

Lawrence Davies is deputy CEO at UKTI's Automotive Investment Organisation (AIO), the arm of Government tasked with promoting investment into the UK automotive sector, and a former director at General Motors.

He said: “The North East has a strong, thriving automotive sector. The NEAA is therefore an important step forward in bringing together the key players in the sector to enhance the region's position and profile both at home and abroad. This is great news in further boosting the UK automotive success story.

“We at the AIO will work hard with the NEAA over the coming years, to promote UK automotive around the world and to support the region in securing further overseas investment. This will continue to be crucial in securing jobs and growth in the region."

The new cluster is also being supported by Sunderland City Council.

Sunderland City Council leader, Coun Paul Watson, said: “We are proud that the NEAA has set up its headquarters in Sunderland, which is at the centre of the region’s automotive industry.

“In addition to the Nissan factory, Sunderland has a vigorous and growing automotive supply chain. We would urge companies in the sector, both in the city and across the region, to take advantage of the huge benefits that membership of the cluster looks set to bring for individual businesses and the North-East economy as a whole.”