Niche makers of specialist cars have been catapulted into the international spotlight with the launch of a new support group.
The West Midlands is a hotbed of niche automotive makers with about 1,000 people involved in making cars which retail from £15,000 to £500,000.
Niche manufacturers are defined as small and medium- sized companies which produce up to 150 vehicles per year.
Now more than 23 autorelated business, from across the region, have signed up to the Niche Vehicle Network, where they can share resources, pool knowledge and participate in joint-marketing ventures to help secure new orders.
The collaboration is being co-ordinated by the supplychain initiative Accelerate together with regional development agency Advantage West Midlands, Coventry City Council, Business Link Coventry and Warwickshire and Coventry University.
It was unveiled with the likes of CPP, Induction Technology Group and The Custom Crank and Engineering Co showcasing their expertise to more than 500,000 visitors at the recent Autosport 2005 show at the National Exhibition Centre.
David Malpass, senior operations manager at Accelerate, said: "There are a number of specialist niche car manufacturers looking to increase volumes and push export levels, but presently do not possess the resources or financial strength to do this effectively.
"With this in mind, we decided the best way forward would be to take all of this individual expertise and pool it together in a pro-active network that can be used to tender for new business, increase efficiency through supplier utilisation and penetrate into several new international markets."
The Niche Vehicle Network is currently drawing up a number of ambitious plans to take into 2005 and will shortly be developing a brand identity to help with the continued expansion.
David Keene, managing director of Coventry-based RDM Automotive Group, said: "This is an excellent opportunity for everyone involved in the niche sector of the auto industry to come forward and look at ways of exploiting combined knowledge and capacity.
"Taking part in the network suits us on a number of fronts. Firstly, our GTM Cars division, which manufactures the Spyder and Libra kit cars, will benefit from the prestige of being part of such a powerful new brand, not to mention the cost savings of being able to exhibit together.
"Secondly, we are also heavily involved as a first-tier supplier of specialist electrical harnesses, a section of the company we hope to grow through new contacts and partnership.
"The first meeting has already thrown up a potential new-working relationship for the company."
The company, which employs 40 people, has set its sights on quadrupling its volume of GTM cars to 200 per year, with distribution agreements already in place in the United States of America and Australia.
Another new member is the Connaught Motor Company, which is due to launch its Type D four seater sports coupe later this year.
Tony Martindale, director of the company, said: "We are 100 per cent committed to supporting the Niche Vehicle Network, which represents a dynamic and innovative collaboration that has the potential to lead in the global manufacturing strategies of the 21st century.
"The corporate and regional benefits for all concerned will deliver a halo effect on the entire UK automotive industry, positioning the Midlands at the forefront of automotive innovation.
"It will help us source components at a better price and better quality as well as share technology, as well as specialist skills and tooling with other companies."
Mr Malpass added: "The engineering that goes into these niche vehicles is phenomenal and a real competitive advantage that we hope to maximise through the network, whether it be with companies working together on new products or exhibiting together at the big international shows.
"There is also scope to target the high volume manufacturers, who may be able to use innovative working methodologies to improve output, save costs or even with model development."
Managed by Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, Accelerate will offer member companies the opportunity to access its raft of specialist services, including business development and capital equipment grants, supplychain improvement projects and specialist centres.
It will also use the expertise of the consortium to access additional areas of funding and strategic support.