ZF TRW, the active and passive safety technology division of ZF AG, officially opened the new multi-million pound extension to its Rainton Bridge site this week.
The company, which became part of the German-owned car component giant ZF Group earlier this year, will be creating 130 jobs at the site over the next few years with the first 30 new employees joining the company in the next few months.
At the opening, Maciej Gwozdz, ZF TRW’s European vice president European steering, said: “We have fantastic advantages at our Sunderland plant. We have a great workforce, first class research and development resources on site and a unique, co-operative relationship with Sunderland City Council. As a result we have high quality products, unique technology and a reputation for being best in class.
“It is critical for us to be at the leading edge of technology to deliver the highest standards of passive and active safety to protect our customers’ passengers worldwide. This extension means that we will be delivering 600,000 motors for three customers and will have further opportunities for steering and braking contracts.”
The extension at the Rainton Bridge site doubles the floor space at the plant to meet demand from international customers. The investment in the extension was assisted by £1.75 million from the Regional Growth Fund. Sunderland City Council advised the company throughout.
ZF TRW exports 100 per cent of its products made in Sunderland, with key markets including Europe and China. The new space will initially be used for the assembly of electric motors used in the company’s new electric steering column system, designed to cut emissions, save fuel and produce a more economical, environmentally-friendly vehicle.
The first motors to be built in the extension are for a new contract with a major North American vehicle manufacturer, which begins production early in 2017. The existing Sunderland plant is also currently producing two new belt-drive steering products for other car manufacturers.
The company has been manufacturing in Sunderland since 1989. ZF TRW Sunderland plant manager, Tim Jayes, said: “The new building will handle production for this new piece of business initially as well as future business awards.
“The nature of our products means that when we build new motors, they go to the design and test centre for extensive testing, and then they are fitted to prototype vehicles for exhaustive road testing. The new production line can be in place some 12 months before we start production for saleable cars.
“The testing period can be eight to 12 months for the motors alone. When they pass all the tests, we can then start to build and assemble them into the full steering rack.
Tim Jayes continued: “The City Council has been exceptionally supportive. It recognises our requirements and has been very happy to get involved throughout the whole project.
“Sunderland is an ideal location due to its experienced and highly skilled workforce that has been building motors for many years.”
Sunderland City Council leader, Cllr Paul Watson, said the local authority is always happy to work with companies like ZF TRW.
He said: “The partnership approach is very important, and we have been delighted to work with ZF TRW since it came to Sunderland. The company is an important part of the city’s growing automotive hub, and is a major employer and driver for our local economy.
“We look forward to continuing to work with ZF TRW and advising on the business’s further growth.”
The new extension opening was also welcomed by UK Trade and Investment’s Automotive Investment Organisation.
Deputy CEO Lawrence Davies said: “ZF TRW’s latest decision to invest in Sunderland shows the company’s faith in the city and in its workforce for the long-term, and demonstrates its belief in the UK’s overall competitiveness.
“The company has had a base in Sunderland for more than 25 years and the new extension shows this multi-national company’s commitment to the city and its role as a key employer in Sunderland’s very strong automotive supply chain.”
His views were echoed by the region’s automotive cluster group, the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA).
NEAA chief executive Paul Butler said: “This is another strong example of significant investment into a North East facility.
“ZF TRW is a fantastic company and it’s great to see its parent company recognising that and investing in the future of the North East.”