Niche vehicle market offering hope of growth in Midlands


Industrial Editor

A scheme has been launched to boost the West Midlands’ niche automotive sector, which experts say is probably the strongest in the world.

About 25 specialist car and chassis manufacturers ranging from traditional sports car specialist Morgan to Modec, a manufacturer of electric vans, are expected to be benefit from the move.

Regional development agency Advantage West Midlands has announced that it is funding a new collaborative research and development programme to boost the competiveness of the niche vehicle cluster.

The £2.5million Advantage Niche Vehicle Programme (ANVP) is aimed at promoting innovation through collaborative research and development and the faster adoption of advanced technology.

The programme will be managed and led by CENEX, the Centre of Excellence for Low Carbon and Fuel Cell Technology, and supported by Coventry University.

The university will host a project office for CENEX, creating a West Midlands presence and acting as a hub for manufacturers to develop partnerships with the region’s universities and research and technology organisations.

The 25-strong Niche Vehicle Network, which is sponsored by Advantage West Midlands, has been a key part of developing the project and will be an important part of its delivery, the agency said.

Richard Hutchins, corporate director of economic development at AWM, said: “The West Midlands has a vibrant and healthy niche vehicle cluster, which includes leading brands like Modec, Morgan Motor Company, Westfield, Lotus Lightweight Structures and Microcab, and which is arguably the World’s strongest concentration of niche vehicle manufacturers.

“The base of specialist technology organisations is a distinct regional asset, actively generating new automotive technology. Making this accessible to independent niche manufacturers in collaborative groups will promote growth in the cluster through improved competitive advantage, while spreading costs will help overcome the financially driven aversion to take risks in adopting new technology.

“At the same time, the ANVP will show a wider audience that the niche companies have the ability to innovate through collaboration and can therefore participate in larger national and international programmes.

“The new programme is a key project in the Automotive Cluster Plan and aligns with the West Midlands Economic Strategy by seizing market opportunities and improving competitiveness.

“Collaboration will lead to the sharing of best practice in innovation and new technologies, an overall increase in sales and the creation and safeguarding of jobs.

“At the same time, gains in gross value added are also expected, which is at the heart of helping to reduce the region’s productivity gap, the single largest challenge facing the West Midlands economy.”   

Brendan Connor, Chairman of CENEX and a member of the AWM board, added: “We have worked closely with the niche vehicles sector to identify its precise needs and have seen an overwhelmingly positive response.

“We have already received more than 30 expressions of interest, with a number of projects earmarked for immediate start.”