DRIVINGFORWARD; Year of Success in Automotive Sector Toasted as Region Continues to Play Major Role in Industry Monday Spotlight With

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Byline: Jenny Waddington

CAR production accelerated in the UK last month - up 7.5 per cent on the previous year.

With experts predicting this positive trend will continue into 2012, optimists need look no further than Coventry and Warwickshire to see how the automotive industry is helping to drive economic recovery.

While the region is no longer the hub of volume car manufacturing it once was, it is still a major employer across the city and county. After years of plant closures and job losses - including Jaguar's Browns Lane site and Peugeot ending car production in the city - the region can boast of an impressive year for the automotive sector.

In the last six months, Jaguar Land Rover has revealed an impressive line-up of new vehicles including its Coventry-designed concept sports car, the two-seater C-X16 - which stole the spotlight when it made its world debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

The manufacturer, which has plants in Whitley, Coventry and Gaydon in south Warwickshire, also announced plans to open a new pounds 355million engine plant, creating up to 750 jobs, and announced last month that 336 new graduate recruits will join its training programme. Coventrybased CPP has had a groundbreaking year with news it will make a new version of the famous Jenson Interceptor, which could be built at its planned new headquarters in Browns Lane. The company also revealed plans to build the first Bowler on-road vehicle at one of it's city bases.

And as well as the big players, the automotive industry remains a key sector for Coventry and Warwickshire's SMEs, according to bosses at the University of Warwick Science Park.

Around 250 people are employed in the sector in small and medium sized companies based at the University of Warwick Science Park's three sites in the area.

Karen Aston, centre manager at the Science Park's Innovation Centre in Warwick, said: "The automotive industry is still of major importance to the region - and we should continue to build on that.

"We have three sites across Coventry and Warwick, with office space for small and medium sized businesses in hi-tech or scientific areas and, among those, there are around 20 companies that are directly or indirectly involved with the automotive sector.

"On top of that, we have also helped companies in that sector to expand and grow and they have since flown the nest and established bases of their own - it's an industry that is very much alive and kicking."

She added: "We have everything from design and engineering companies to a firm that has improved rear-view mirrors to improve visibility for drivers. …