Thursday, 25 February 2016

Aston Martin to build DBX in Wales from 2020

Cars have not been made in Wales, in the UK, since the days of Gilbern Sports Cars Ltd., which built glass fibre cars in Pontypridd, Glamorgan between 1959 and 1973. Former butcher Giles Smith and German engineer Bernard Friese joined forces to found the company.
But that could change in 2020 when the Aston Martin DBX crossover vehicle begins to roll off the assembly line at a former RAF base at St. Athan, in Barry, Glamorgan.
In an unusual move for a high-quality vehicle manufacturer, Aston Martin has confirmed St. Athan as the location for its second manufacturing facility. The company claims this is a “significant new investments towards its long-term future in the UK”.
Executives in deciding to build the new crossover vehicle in Wales, clearly have been thinking “out of the box” in choosing not to build it closer to Gaydon’s headquarters and manufacturing facility. DBX is expected to retail at £160,000. Sites in the US had been considered.
Occupying some 90 acres, the new facility at St Athan will “re-purpose some of the facilities currently in use at the site by the Ministry of Defence”. And here lies the clue to the choice of location.
Production of the new vehicle will be centered on the “transformation of the three existing super-hangers” at MOD St Athan, where construction work will begin in 2017 with full vehicle production starting three years later in 2020.
The former RAF base (officially opened in 1938) at St. Athan has had a chequered career with recent plans to turn it into a Defence College of Technical Training. It is exactly four years almost to the day (23 February 2012) since the last Vickers VC10 aircraft left the site. It is to be hoped the arrival of Aston Martin engineers will set the base on a new, successful and long-lasting course.

St Athan will be the sole production facility for the new crossover vehicle which appeared as a concept crossover in early 2015, highlighting the company’s intention and direction for this “fast-growing segment of the luxury market”.
With production not planned to start for another four years, Aston executives will be keen that fast-changing economic patterns will not blow of course what they see as “the growing demand for these types of vehicles in markets such as China and the US”.
They hope this momentum will continue at its present pace long past Job 1 date if St. Athan is to achieve long-term success.
Executives likewise expect that if the present momentum is maintained that over 90 per cent of St. Athan’s production from will be exported outside of the UK.
Dr. Andrew Palmer, chief executive officer of Aston Martin and creator of the Second Century Plan, said: “During our 103-year history, Aston Martin has become famous for making beautiful hand-crafted cars in England. Through a detailed evaluation of over 20 potential global locations for this new manufacturing facility, we were consistently impressed with the focus on quality, cost and speed from the Welsh Government team. As a great British company, we look forward to St Athan joining Gaydon as our second centre of hand-crafted manufacturing excellence.”
According to Palmer "It takes 200 hours to make a car and to do that we need skilled labour and we have got that skilled labour in Wales, in Great Britain and that played a big part in our decision."
Palmer said there were a number of reasons why St. Athan had been chosen for the new site.
He openly admits the Welsh offer “wasn't financially enticing but shareholders had to understand the balance that had to be made on quality, cost and time, and St. Athan was on time," he said.
Palmer added: "We don't have to build a building. It won through in terms of quality of workforce and supplies and relationship with the government of Wales."
Part of the secret of the deal lies in the £113 million Red Dragon super hanger which was supposed to deliver hundreds of aircraft repair jobs.
The value of the deal is understood to be in the hundreds of millions of pounds, although perhaps not surprisingly, the Welsh government will not comment on the level of its support.
As part of the package, the deal includes a skills academy intended to make St. Athan and the Vale of Glamorgan “a centre of excellence”.
However, the sheer logistics and challenges associated with a combined and near simultaneous facility and product launch planned to take place in Glamorgan and a head office and lead design and manufacturing unit in Warwickshire 150 miles (240km) and 2.5 hours distant cannot be ignored.
DBX (pictured below) is expected to start as a gasoline vehicle before being developed into a hybrid and all-electric 4x4.

Meanwhile, Aston’s Welsh development leaves Gaydon as the production location of next-generation sports car, the DB11. Production of the recently announced all-electric RapidE also will be located at Gaydon, starting in 2018.
It will be recalled that not so many years ago, as we have reported, a former chief executive of Aston Martin decided that the Rapide should be built by Magna International in Graz, Austria, only later to to withdrawn to the UK for production at some significant cost to Aston Martin.
Aston executives anticipate that up to 1,000 new jobs will be created across St. Athan and Gaydon between now and 2020. Of these, some 750 will be at St. Athan. Across the supply chain and local businesses, a further 3,000 jobs could be created as a direct result of these investments.
Job 1 date of the DB11 is this autumn at Gaydon. This is the replacement for the DB9 and is the first car to be launched under the company’s Second Century plan.
Over the course of the next five years, the company will both replace and expand its entire sports car portfolio.
Starting with DB11, sports car manufacture will be based at Gaydon with the facility progressively expanding production to a planned maximum volume of 7,000 sports cars a year by 2020
Commenting of the St. Athan deal, First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones said: “I am delighted to officially welcome Aston Martin to Wales. We have been working closely with the company for almost two years in the face of fierce competition from other potential sites across the world. Our success today is testament to the reputation, dedication and skills of the Welsh workforce, all qualities that are synonymous with such a luxury, hand-crafted brand as Aston Martin.

He confirmed: “Today is the start of a long-term relationship between Wales and Aston Martin. We will work together in building on the strong foundations of our partnership to nurture a prosperous and rewarding future for this iconic company and its skilled workforce in Wales.”

1 comment:

Alan Bunting said...

Everyone must wish Aston Martin success in its DBX manufacturing venture at St Athan. Andrew Palmer refers to the Welsh plant as a future 'centre of hand-crafted manufacturing excellence', adding that the required skilled labour is available in the area. He implies that former MoD aircraft repair and maintenance teams who have worked on the St Athan site will meet the hand-crafting requirement. Some eyebrows might be raised there.
Car manufacturing ventures elsewhere on the 'Celtic fringe' of the British Isles have not in the past been blessed with too much success. One thinks of the ill-fated de Lorean enterprise at Dunmurry in Northern Ireland and the Hillman Imp plant at Linwood in Scotland. In both those instances, severe product quality problems, attributable in part to inadequate production line skills as well as labour unrest, led to their demise.
In today's high-volume car plants, robotisation has partially overcome manual skill shortcomings. But one assumes Aston Martin's loudly-proclaimed 'hand crafting' will mean little, if any, reliance on robots. Meticulous quality control will therefore seemingly assume huge importance at St Athan, even more than at Gaydon.