'The Euro Holds the Future of Our Automotive Industry' PROFILE: TIM WILLIAMS

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Byline: ROBERT JONES

THIS has been a significant week for the automotive industry. The last Fiesta has rolled off Ford's production line at Dagenham, ending 71 years of car making at the plant. Minister for Europe Peter Hain has risked a clash with Gordon Brown by suggesting he could be ready to deliver his verdict on the five economic targets for entry into the euro in time for a referendum next spring.

These events are of special interest to Tim Williams, chief executive of the Welsh Automotive Forum.

As chairman of Wales in Europe too his views on the euro are well documented but he is always willing to reiterate them.

"We have in Wales 50 major automotive companies owned by international parent companies, " he explained. "These serve a European market which raises the question of the euro and the referendum which will determine our entry into the eurozone."

He acknowledges that there are arguments for and against but sounds a siren warning.

"If we do not go in what signal will that send out to companies that have invested in Wales to serve the European market? What signal does it send to those considering an in ward investment opportunity here?" he asks.

The answer is, "If the decision is against entry these companies will relocate to an euro zone country. A vote for the euro will see an uplift in market terms as international companies decide to join the strong automotive cluster we have here in Wales."

The automotive industry in Wales employs 25,000 and generates more than pounds 2bn a year.

It accounts for 22pc of those employed in manufacturing industries in Wales, a statistic that defies the popular belief that it is not doing as well as it once did and that manufacturing is in decline.

He acknowledges the disappearance of Valeo at Swansea and concern about steelmaker Corus but this is no true reflection of the makeup of the automotive sector in Wales.

He said, "Through those companies that operate in Wales - Ford at Bridgend, Toyota at Deeside and Visteon in Swansea, supported by Calsonic, Robert Bosch, Quentin Hazel and a cluster of companies in the Wrexham area - there are enough skills to warrant a complete vehicle assembly plant in Wales."

The 50 major companies are the apex of a pyramid that supports between 250-300 companies in sub-sector component manufacture and it is in this tier-one category that the changes are being made.

Here suppliers are being asked to make complete assemblies, which incorporate engine, gearbox and axle as a complete system.

The implications of this are that sub-tier companies fully understand the meaning of the term 'world class' - something the larger companies have had to contend with when competing in a world market.

How then can such companies survive and thrive against world competition dominated primarily by European competition?

"Let's not forget that in the UK we have the largest cluster of motor manufacturers anywhere in the world and Wales plays its part supplying components to these companies in the UK and plants across Europe, " he said.

"Their gateway to Europe is via the UK and there is no reason why we cannot improve our competitive position to win more business."

Mr Williams once ran the family engineering business, Cardiff-based Williams Holdings. This, along with a passionate belief in the historical importance of manufacturing to the Welsh economy and a love affair with the motor car give added syllogism to his arguments.

Then to affirm that these are not rooted permanently in the past, he reviews the role technology is playing in modern manufacturing and quantifies its importance.

"Modern technology is where the drive has to be. The knowledge-driven economy is happening. We are manufacturing items with more sophisticated equipment and producing these more efficiently with smaller yet more highly skilled workforces, " he said. …