Whale Tankers is set create jobs this year as production expands, the Solihull company's senior executives said.

The company, which already employs 180 people at its 10-acre Ravenshaw site, is expecting to boost production and turnover by about 15 per cent on the back of a tranche of new orders.

Speaking at the Commercial Vehicle Show at the NEC yesterday, sales director Keith Van-Hagen, said Whale should achieve sales of £20 million in 2005 and ramp up production levels to about 300 units.

The company, which is 21 per cent- owned by its workforce, is the country's leading manufacturer of vacuum road tankers for transporting hazardous and non-toxic materials as well as road maintenance and high-power jetting equipment.

"I believe that it will continue to be a very buoyant market this year - at least, that's the message we are getting from our customers," Mr Van-Hagen said.

"We are seeing a significant increase in business and have already achieved 108 per cent of our sales target at this stage of the year." The company expects to be able to announce a number of new orders in the coming weeks, he added.

Managing director Mark Warmington said Whale expected to recruit further employees in the coming months, but added: "We are trying to improve efficiency all round rather than just increase the head count."

Recent expansion of the Ravenscroft site means that Whale can now build vehicles for stock.

"In recent years, we have been a victim of our own success in that lead times on some products have been longer than we would have ideally liked," said Mr Van-Hagen.

Whale is showing a number of its latest products at the CV Show, including a 30,000-litre tanker which has been taken up by a number of water companies and industrial users.

A new development for the company is the launch of Whale Finance, an initiative in partnership with Bank of Scotland Asset Finance to offer flexible funding packages to private and public- sector customers.

Whale also yesterday signed a major contract with Scottish Water to cover the preventative maintenance of the utility's vehicles.

It has brought the total number of WhaleCare contracts in operation to more than 500, the company said.

It launched the scheme three years to supply customers with regular inspection and maintenance schemes. I

It is run by a team of 14 field-based service technicians spread throughout the country.

Service manager Chris Anderson said the 70 per cent growth in care contracts over the past 12 months reflected an industry trend toward fixedprice planned maintenance contracts on specialist equipment.