OXFORDSHIRE, UK - TWR Group, Volvo Car Corp.'s partner at AutoNova AB, will soon add a second car assembly plant in Europe.
The size and scope will be similar to the AutoNova joint venture in Uddevalla, Sweden, said Managing Director Tom Walkinshaw in an interview.
Walkinshaw, TWR's majority owner, would not disclose the partner or say where the plant will be located.
But he said the project is planned for the 'not too distant future.'
It will focus still more attention on the once low-profile, now closely-watched UK engineering company.
'I expect that we'll have another plant...something similar to Uddevalla in another location,' he said. 'I don't want to say where. But it is in our plans to have another manufacturing facility.'
TWR owns 51 percent of the joint venture to build Volvo's C70 coupe and convertible in Uddevalla, a plant that Volvo closed in 1993.
AutoNova has raised TWR's visibility and set it apart from most other UK engineering firms. TWR has long been a force in the world of racing. Now the group, with annual sales of $375 million, is becoming known for road car design, engineering and manufacturing.
Walkinshaw, a hard-charging ex-European touring car champion, formed Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) 20 years ago. He built it up from motorsports into a broad-based engineering house.
TWR has engine, chassis and composites engineering capability. A styling studio is headed by Ian Callum, former design chief at Ford's Ghia studio. TWR also assembles engines for the Aston Martin DB7 at a plant in Kidlington, UK.
TWR engineers are currently handling five major client projects, including two Volvo jobs.
The company employs about 1,300 around the world. About 500 will be based at the 15-month-old headquarters in Leafield, Oxfordshire, in the UK when it is fully occupied.
Last month, TWR set up its newest office, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Walkinshaw got serious about building up the road car engineering operations about 10 years ago. His first major venture outside racing was to set up JaguarSport in 1988 to design and assemble special performance versions of Jaguar production cars. The joint venture with Jaguar also created and built the limited edition XJ220.
The breakthrough agreement was in 1992, when TWR won a contract to design and engineer the DB7. Then in 1994 it linked with Volvo to engineer and build the C70 twins.
TWR was at least partly responsible for five models that debuted at the Paris show. But it could brag about only one, the C70. Clients have kept TWR's involvement in other cars a secret.
Racing will diminish
Racing is another matter. Walkinshaw gets plenty of attention. He ran the Ligier and Benetton Grand Prix teams before buying the Arrows Formula 1 team this year and signing Damon Hill to drive.
'We use motorsports to demonstrate our levels of technology and competence,' he said. 'It's a marketing arm. Obviously, we use it as a profit center as well, but essentially it's to display to the industry what we are capable of.'
Racing represents about 15 percent of revenue.
'That will decrease as the years go on because we are growing the engineering side,' he said. 'We're not going out of our way to grow the motor racing side.'
The Volvo deal transformed TWR. The companies agreed to develop the C70 in June 1994. The design was frozen by that autumn. The first prototype was running by the following June.
'Volvo was looking for opportunities for niche models to add to the range,' said Walkinshaw. 'We entered a dialogue and they asked me to go into a joint venture company to manufacture all Volvo niche products for the future. That is what AutoNova is going to be responsible for.'
TWR won't say how much it invested in the joint venture. But Walkinshaw said it was substantial.
'We had to think carefully about it because it is a hell of a commitment,' he said. 'But we'd been involved in low volume manufacturing before and developed a lot of the processes for trying to keep the quality level the same as on a mainstream program.
'The thinking of our engineers and Volvo's was very similar,' he said. 'So we agreed to do it and it has been very interesting setting up a complete plant.'
Coupe production began this fall. The convertible will be launched in early 1997.
AutoNova aims to build 20,000 C70s per year. But Walkinshaw said other models planned by Volvo will eventually double production.
The plant is configured for a capacity of 40,000.
'I can't tell you what is going in there, but it will need capacity of 40,000,' he said. 'It could actually go to about 50,000.
'We had to develop a flexible line so that when we introduce another product we can continue to build the coupe and the convertible,' he said. 'The flexible approach will be the secret of that plant in the long term. We can vary the volumes and model mix without appreciable down time.'
AutoNova receives engines and stamped body panels, but it does assemble and paint the C70 body.
The plant uses team assembly, but it is an update of the radical system installed at Uddevalla by Volvo in 1990.
Volvo adopted the team system to counteract high worker turnover and absenteeism.
Instead of traditional line assembly, a small group of workers takes a car through the entire assembly process.
AutoNova uses a variation of original concept.
'It is working very well, ' said Walkinshaw. 'It is like anything else - when you revisit it six or seven years later you can see ways of improving it.'
Plant management is a mixture of TWR and Volvo personnel. The head of production is the former Volvo plant manager at Uddevalla.
Despite its new status as a carmaker, Walkinshaw said there are no plans to build a TWR-badged car.
'It's never been something that I've aspired to,' he said. 'I don't think we need the ego trip of having our badge on a car. We've done the opposite. We've resisted many approaches to use our badge on a product because I don't think in the long term it is the right thing.'
But what TWR is learning about making cars at Uddevalla is helping attract new engineering business.
'It is bringing other manufacturers to us with much, much bigger programs,' said Walkinshaw.
Walkinshaw decided more than a decade ago to aim high in the consulting world. He modeled his company after Porsche Engineering in Weissach, Germany.
'That is a fantastic facility,' he said. 'I tried to replicate what they do, but from a much lower cost base.
'I decided that if we were going to be in the automotive sector we needed to do complete projects. I wanted to offer a turnkey solution and we geared the company up accordingly.'
Working in anonymity
But TWR usually works in anonymity.
'Because our projects are usually quite substantial the confidentiality issue is more to the forefront than normal,' he said. 'Most of what we do nobody ever gets to hear about. It's only recently that some manufacturers have begun to acknowledge the role we've played.'
As carmakers spin more models off common platforms, he thinks it will create more opportunities for companies like his.
'The manufacturers have to do it,' he said. 'They must get the maximum out of their investments. It's part of the industry that we are exploiting.'