EXPORTER OF THE YEAR

Winner: Jaguar Cars

Runners-up: AES Engineering; HDA Forgings; Digital Engineering; UPM Machinery Sales; Meta Technology

Jaguar has always been strong in international markets, particularly the US. It achieved its best-ever level of exports in 1998, and looks like breaking the record again this year.

The first Jaguar hit the road in 1936. Exports helped the company survive in Britain’s austere post-war economic climate, and the marque went on to become one of the UK’s top dollar earners.

The 1990s have seen an international sales boom. Exports rose from 16,875 in 1992 to 38,560 – 77% of the company’s total sales – in 1998. These sales were worth over £1bn, and the company estimates that exports directly support 6,500 jobs in the UK.

New models, such as the V8 XJ series saloons and XK8 and XKR sports cars, are behind the growth in sales. And the new S-type sports saloon, being progressively introduced in different markets, is expected to raise 1999’s total exports by a further 62% to 62,500.

North America is still the luxury car maker’s largest market, but the most impressive increase has been in European sales. In 1998, the XJ series outsold the BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz S-class in Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. And sales in Germany reached a best ever total of 4,059 in 1998.

Runners-up

Over the past two years, Rotherham-based mechanical seals manufacturer AES Engineering has actively sought new markets in Europe, south-east Asia and South Africa. The result has been a strong growth in exports, and the company now sells most of its products abroad.

HDA Forgings, which produces hand- and die-forged components, has more than doubled its exports over the past three years and is winning new markets in the Far East and Europe.

Belfast-based Digital Engineering manufactures testing and training equipment for the telecommunications and networking sectors. Through a clearly defined export strategy and overseas distributor network, the company has raised export sales to 70% of turnover.

Of the other shortlisted firms, UPM Machinery Sales, which makes belt conveyors, has seen impressive export growth over the past five years, while laser tracking system maker Meta Technology has seen a threefold increase in exports, following a product redesign and a new focus on European markets.