New Accelerate Chairman urges West Midlands companies to think global

07 February 2006 #SMMT News

A leading industry figure today urged West Midlands automotive companies to think global in every sense of the word if they want to succeed in 2006 and beyond.

Malcolm Bird (pictured), director of quality and sustainable development at GKN Driveline, started his stewardship of the Accelerate Partnership this week and immediately painted an international picture of exploiting new relationships, harnessing added value and maintaining the region’s innovative reputation.

He also highlighted the impact of the supply chain initiative and signalled his intentions to help guide the programme to a sustainable future that looks to replace grant funding with more specialised business improvement support.

“The West Midlands is at an extremely important stage of its development, with globalisation presenting a wide array of challenges and opportunities.”

Malcolm, who was appointed OBE by Her Majesty the Queen in January 2005, continued: “China has obviously taken centre stage in recent years, but there has also been significant movement in India, Mexico, Brazil and central Europe, especially from the likes of Slovakia and Poland.

“Even with all these changes, the UK still retains its reputation as being a key partner to the global automotive industry, but if this is to continue, the supply chain must embrace and not fear what is going on in every corner of the world.”

Speaking in his new role, he also insisted that local suppliers must be very shrewd when it comes to retaining intellectual property, as this ‘added value’ would be a decisive edge over foreign competition.

In some cases, firms have already started to explore the viability of joint ventures, licensing agreements and even the possibility of setting up subsidiaries in low cost countries as a way of offsetting significant labour costs.

“The emphasis has got to be around building on our strengths, such as innovation, unrivalled project management skills and the latest technologies, such as the opportunities created from 42 volt electrical systems,” added Malcolm

“We need to shout about all these skills and not only market them to OEMs, who manufacture in this country, but actually take the message to every continent in the world. The next five years will see hundreds of new vehicle platforms come online and the challenge for the UK is to make sure we are involved in as many models as possible.”

He went on to explain: “Accelerate has a massive job to complete in assisting suppliers down this global route and I’m delighted that I have the opportunity to develop the initiative in a way that will directly meet the needs of the industry.”

Through his senior roles at GKN Driveline, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Industry Forum, and CLEPA (the European association of automotive suppliers), Malcolm has built up an unrivalled knowledge of the world market and a clear focus on satisfying customer expectations.

This experience will be put to the fore, as the programme looks to mark its tenth birthday by developing a sustainable model for the future.

“Accelerate’s impact in the last decade has been overwhelming, not least from the point of view that over 2000 companies have now become more competitive from its combination of grant and tailored support.”

Malcolm continued: “Like most things in the sector, it needs to evolve to meet the new challenges faced by our suppliers and this is something I will look to drive forward with the support of the small and medium enterprises (SME) steering group and the Executive committee, which comprises of organisations like Jaguar and Aston Martin.”

Initial indications suggest that the initiative will slowly migrate away from grant funding and instead look at delivering more specialised support, such as Technology Transfer Networks.

2006 will also see the creation of a new business plan for Accelerate, which will involve the long term aim of becoming sustainable through a ‘special community’ and paid-for improvement activities.

Rachel Eade, programme manager, provided a warm welcome:

“The appointment of Malcolm is fantastic news and a perfect way to start our ten year celebrations.”

She concluded: “He’s an extremely well respected figure in the industry and will be an important source of research, understanding and knowledge, as we look to position ourselves at the forefront of business support.”

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