London: Britain’s West Midlands region, the epicenter of an automotive industry that once employed a million people, is lobbying Indian industrial conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra to open a motorcycle factory in the area as Mayor Andy Street seeks to restore its manufacturing might.
Street, the former head of retailer John Lewis Plc, is targeting Mahindra as part of a bid to lure automakers with incentives while promoting the expertise of a wider Midlands region that’s still home to more than 400 specialist firms including Aston Martin Lagonda and India-owned Jaguar Land Rover.
Mahindra already has an automotive research center near Coventry after reviving the BSA motorcycle brand dormant since 1973, though its first model, the 650cc Gold Star, is currently scheduled to be built only in India.
“Mahindra have committed to R&D at the moment. I am hoping we will persuade them to commit to be doing manufacturing,” said Street, a Conservative who was elected the first West Midlands mayor in 2017 after a shock victory in what had been a Labour heartland.
Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city and at the heart of the region, is currently hosting UK House, a conference aimed at promoting trade and investment alongside the Commonwealth Games where Street has been courting manufacturers and businesses to set up shop.
Battery plant push
The mayor is also aiming to get JLR, the UK’s biggest carmaker and controlled by Mumbai-based Tata Motors, to commit to building batteries at a Coventry airport site dubbed the West Midlands Gigafactory.
He says the West Midlands authority has put together a financial package to make the case to JLR, bolstered by the advantages of a skilled workforce and having a location that’s ready to go.
Bloomberg reported in May that JLR was in talks with European battery makers Northvolt AB and SVolt Energy Technology Co. for a range of electric vehicles it may assemble in Slovakia. Street said that JLR has committed to making EVs in its factory at Solihull, though has yet to make a decision on batteries.
Street, who is backing Liz Truss in the Conservative leadership race, said he’ll press the next Prime Minister to increase support for the automotive industry, including funding for suppliers transitioning to EVs and the setting up of charging infrastructure.
Reviving the classics
The UK motorcycle industry is witnessing a revival of classic brands, a number of them owned by Indian companies.
Chennai-based TVS Motor Co. bought Norton Motorcycles in 2020 and has a manufacturing facility in Solihull, with plans for a range of UK-built electric bikes. Royal Enfield, another storied marque, is owned by India’s Eicher Motors Ltd. and has a technical center in Leicestershire in the East Midlands.