Highlands & Islands

Lochaber alloy wheel plan on hold until Brexit 'clarity'

Artist's impression of planned factory Image copyright GFG Alliance
Image caption An artist's impression of the alloy wheels plant

A company planning to manufacture alloy wheels in the Highlands says it needs a "moment of clarity" on the future of car-making in the UK before proceeding.

The plan formed part of GFG Alliance's £120m expansion of its Lochaber Smelter near Fort William.

GFG said the project was ready to start but needed to know car-makers would stay in the UK after Brexit to support its alloy wheels plan.

It is exploring other uses for liquid aluminium from the smelter.

These including products for the construction industry and using the aluminium for making water bottles.

GFG Alliance said it remained committed to "downstream manufacturing" at the 90-year-old west Highlands smelter and hydro power site.

Acquired by GFG Alliance three years ago, the plant produces up to 50,000 tonnes of aluminium annually. The takeover safeguarded jobs at the site.

Production of alloy wheels had been expected to start next year.

Jay Hambro, of the GFG Alliance, said the project was "oven ready" and much of the preparation work had already been done.

He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We've been working very closely with Highland Council to get planning permission for our site.

"We've been working very closely with lots of manufacturers of the equipment, so are ready to go but just need a moment of clarity as to the future and then will push the button."

GFG company Liberty would manufacture the wheels.

Under this plan, aluminium from the nearby Lochaber Smelter would be used to manufacture up to two million wheels a year for the UK car industry.

The site would be capable of supplying at least one fifth of all the wheels required by UK vehicle manufacturers, according to GFG.

Image copyright GFG Alliance
Image caption Production at the factory was expected to start next year

The car industry has been issuing warnings over Brexit.

UK car production could be cut by more than a third if the UK withdraws from the EU without an "ambitious" trade deal, an industry body warned last month.

Analysis commissioned by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) predicts that falling back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would add £3.2bn a year to car making costs.

Car prices would rise and annual output could fall to as little as one million by 2024, the data by AutoAnalysis said.

The UK made 1.52 million cars in 2018.

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