A series of niche vehicle manufacturers can help restore confidence to the Midland automotive industry and create new jobs and skills in the region, it has been claimed.
The upbeat message was made as a series of producers unveiled their new cars at the Autosport International Racing Car Show at the NEC yesterday.
Racing and automotive technology firm Prodrive, which employs 100 people at its chassis engineering centre near Kenilworth, gave a world premier to its new 170mph P2 sports car.
M eanwhile Zolfe cars launched its first ever vehicle, the Zolfe Orange which has been developed by Team Spatz, a thermoplastics company from West Bromwich.
Zolfe plans to make a car a week of the vehicle, which it has been developing for the last 18 months.
Other new Midland niche cars which made their bow at the show including the GTM Ballista from Coventry, the Connaught Type D GT Syracuse from Daventry, and the Virago Sports Coupe, which is seeking backers before start-ing production somewhere in the region.
David Richards, chairman and chief executive of Pro-drive, said the car was about showing what his company could achieve to a wider audience.
He said: "Prodrive has been well known for its racing links, with Aston Martin at Le Mans, and touring cars.
"But we have also helped develop the European version of the Dodge Viper and design engineers on the Ford RS Focus.
"Everyone sees us in one dimension, but we thought we needed to do something that brings the different parts together. This is to show what we can do.
"This is not just a racing car on the road, but a road car with spectacular performance. It shows what can be achieved in Britain.
"Other countries may have cheaper labour for assembly work, but the design and development skills we have are still very sought after."
Viv Stephens, automotive cluster manager for Advantage West Midlands, said the Prodrive launch, along with the presence of other niche manufacturers at the show, illustrated the depth of skills on offer in the region.
There were around 20 companies in the Midlands, employing 2,000 people, with the potential for many more, said Dr Stephens.
He said: "Niche manufacturers are becoming increasingly popular because people want cars which are much more individualistic.
"A number of firms have come to the exhibition to show off their products which will all begin production during 2006.
"There are a large number of suppliers and firms in the region that have the right skills and abilities to make this happen.
"There is also a large research and development capability, with firms like Prodrive and Ricardo in the area in addition to the universities.
"The region's automotive industry obviously took a knock after the MG Rover crisis, but the niche makers are beginning to rebuild confidence. The area can become the heartland of the small vehicles manufacture."
Dr Stephens added that niche was not necessarily restricted to sports cars, with some companies working on hydrogen powered taxis and electric powered vans.