VW puts the boot in

Purchasing chief slams the UK’s sheet metal industry

Fresh from his assault on the quality of British car components, Frans Boot, Volkswagen’s UK purchasing chief, has fired no less than 60 criticisms at the British sheet metal industry.

Automotive is the biggest market for the 3,500 sheet metal companies, accounting for about 30% of their work. Products supplied to car manufacturers include pressed components and assemblies.

According to Boot, VW, which spends about £650m a year on UK-sourced components, buys less than 1% of the £2.9bn worth of sheet metal manufactured in the UK. `The main reasons are poor quality and economics,’ said Boot.

Common criticisms of the sector arising from VW’s own performance tests include the use of outdated machinery, no just-in-time deliveries, ignorance of kaizen or continuous improvement methods, and not knowing where parts fit on a vehicle. In VW’s own supplier performance tests, sheet metal companies scored an average 80% – the minimum needed to become a VW supplier.

Boot’s criticisms follow an equally damning report on the sector published on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry by Beddows consultancy last year. It pointed to the fragmented and short-term nature of the sector and led to the DTI-2000 initiative to improve sector competitiveness.

Ron Baker, chairman of the British Metalforming Trades Association, which is implementing the DTI initiative, said the sector faced total closure with the loss of 100,000 jobs unless it found a long-term vision. This could be achieved, he said, through the 2000 initiative, which will set up benchmarking programmes, stimulate training and promote the sector’s interests.

By Arlene Foster