Bidding to bridge a gap between UK and China
Investors behind a billion-pound venture to transform the Chinese car market are being lined up to open an automotive research and development centre in Norfolk which could create 200 hi-tech jobs.
During a UK visit next week, the Chinese businessmen behind the �1.1bn project to develop and manufacture high-power, low-emission cars will visit the Hethel Engineering Centre and Lotus Engineering and meet Norfolk politicians at a reception at Norwich Castle.
While the new engines will be manufactured in China, investors plan to open one of two research and development centres in the UK, with land in Hethel next to Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering the preferred option.
The visit has been organised by Hethel Engineering Centre-based business Elitech Power to showcase what Norfolk has to offer.
Director David Taitt, a former engineering director at Lotus Cars and his business partner Rui Chen, a professor of low-carbon engineering at Loughborough University, have been working since 2006 to engage interest and support from investors for the project.
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The pair secured backing from the Yotta Group which has been formed by three Chinese investors including successful property developer and chairman of King Key Group Chen Hua.
The UK research centre will focus on research into combustion, thermodynamics and fluid mechanics to reduce emissions and fuel consumption.
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Mr Taitt, who is also the chairman of Hethel Engineering Centre, said that he and Professor Chen would like the UK research and development centre to be in Hethel.
'There is a fantastic cluster of advanced engineering and technology businesses in Norfolk and a wealth of engineering expertise,' he added.
He also stated the importance of having political support locally.
He said: 'We are dealing with a county council that are completely aligned with the opportunities of the knowledge based technology.' Hethel Engineering Centre director Simon Coward said that the engineering centre's vision was to build an automotive cluster which includes Lotus' new car development and engineering.
'It is about broadening our reach,' he said. 'We have now got lots of start up businesses and more established ones in the automotive sector. If we can bring in this opportunity it would not only diversify the cluster, but it is an opportunity for Lotus. We are really pushing this opportunity. It is massive.'
The Chinese delegation – which will include Mr Hua, will also visit the Houses of Parliament, engineering firm Mahle Powertrain in Northampton and McClaren Cars in London.
Norfolk County Council cabinet member for economic development Ann Steward said: 'It has been a real pleasure working with David Taitt and his engineering colleagues on this highly significant project.
'We are very hopeful that we can convince Mr Chen that Norfolk should be the location for the proposed R&D Centre, as it will fit perfectly with our strategy to expand Norfolk's already impressive engineering sector. The Chinese place great importance on civic links and we look forward to playing our part when the delegation arrives next week.'
The plans – which include a Chinese manufacturing facility which could produce 1.2m units each year – have already been endorsed by Beijing officials from the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Development and Reform Committee following a meeting in Zhanjiang last July. The project is now starting a phase which will deliver a running engines and a demonstrator vehicle which is taking place in the UK.