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07 Mar 2011 12:03:46

North East in lead for low carbon

Mick Brophy, Trevor Mann, Colin Herron and Janet Snaith try out the new Leaf at Gateshead College’s test track facility
Gateshead College and One North East today announced the creation of a unique new open-access test track facility that confirms the North East's leading position for research, development and training in the low carbon vehicle sector.

The test track and workshop building at Nissan Sunderland Plant has been signed over to Gateshead College on a 20-year lease allowing these facilities to be used commercially. One North East is investing £2.4 million to fund the lease, the refurbishment of the on-site workshop and the initial running costs of the new facility, transforming the centre into a hub for low carbon vehicle development.

The centre will be the only centre of its type in Europe linked to a training facility. The £8.4 million Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation is currently under construction at the same site and will also be run by Gateshead College.

Companies, academic institutes and researchers in the low carbon vehicle industry will be able to hire the test track and refurbished workshop on a shared or exclusive basis. The test track is 3km long, has two straights which are each 1km long, a helipad, a range of road surfaces, and facilities for gradient testing and water testing.

As part of the on-site equipment there is already a range of electric vehicle charging technologies including a quick charger, a solar powered charging canopy and a standard charging post – all of which are among the 1,000 charge points being installed across the region by One North East as part of the Office for Low Emission Vehicles national Plugged-In Places programme.

The centre is intended to become an internationally-recognised, self-sustaining facility that will be run on a commercial basis and enable the industry to develop and grow in the North East. A number of companies have already indicated their enthusiasm for using the centre.

As well as attracting companies to test and trial their new technologies in the North East, the centre will be available for use by any organisation involved in the automotive industry, including the five universities in the North East which are all carrying out cutting-edge research.

Mick Brophy, managing director of business, innovation and development, at Gateshead College, said: "This is another unique first for the college as we look to improve and extend the range and scope of commercial automotive training services provided to customers not only in the North East but throughout the UK.

"This exciting move will provide us with a unique research and development facility – the only one of its type in the North – underpinning, in particular, our growing expertise and reputation in delivering bespoke training in the growing electric vehicle sector."

Dr Colin Herron, manufacturing and productivity manager at One North East said: "This unique new facility will be a major boost for training, research and development in the low carbon vehicles sector in the UK and there is real critical mass being created in the North East. This will be a unique asset for regional and national companies, and will help to create new jobs by attracting international firms to the region."

Gateshead College is at the forefront of skills development in this new and emerging sector. It is the preferred training partner for Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) Ltd and provides training in electric vehicle maintenance among other automotive skills and techniques.

Nissan will continue to use the centre as it develops new vehicles in Sunderland including the Nissan LEAF. The Nissan LEAF, the world’s first mass-market, affordable, 100% electric family car, is already on sale and will be manufactured at Nissan Sunderland Plant from 2013, following the start of production of lithium-ion batteries from 2012.

Trevor Mann, Nissan senior vice president for manufacturing in Europe, said: "The Nissan LEAF and our new battery plant have the potential to be a major catalyst for further innovation in our supply chain and in the wider automotive industry.

"The test track and workshop are excellent facilities and we are sure they will be a valuable resource for all of us who are developing the low carbon vehicles sector in the North East."

Janet Snaith, head of city business and investment, Sunderland City Council, said: "Having a test track helps shows how organisations across the North East are gearing up to deliver the incentives and infrastructure for our growing low carbon region. Already this year we have seen the first Nissan LEAF go on sale, the first charging points going 'live' in Sunderland and dates for completing the Nissan battery plant and the start of LEAF manufacturing are getting closer.

"Now, with this research and development facility, we see another exciting step forward that links in with the City Council's Economic Masterplan that is seeing our growth as a low carbon centre."

A steering group has been established to help develop the facility and includes university representatives and key low carbon vehicles companies including Smith Electric Vehicles, and pioneering Northumberland firm AVID Vehicles, which is currently developing several new electric vehicles.

Ryan Maughan, AVID Vehicles managing director, and a member of the centre's steering committee, said: "The new facilities made available to AVID by the opening of this test track will help us to accelerate the development of advanced electric and hybrid vehicle powertrains. We are delighted at the progress made and the facilities will provide an international centre for excellence in low carbon vehicle technology."

Commercial law firm, Muckle LLP, negotiated the lease with Nissan on behalf of Gateshead College. Nick Todd, partner at the firm said: "We have worked closely with the college for many years and we are delighted to have helped secure this test track facility which will play in important role in developing low carbon technologies on vehicles of the future."

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