GREENVILLE, SC – An international delegation is hoping to build a metaphorical bridge this week that will move real cars, parts and innovation across the Atlantic. Members of the UK’s North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) and the Department of International Trade (DIT) will join lawyers from Womble Bond Dickinson on a tour of the Southeastern US’s thriving automotive industry. The goal is to strengthen ties between the region and the UK’s automotive hub in the Northeast of England. This is expected to be the start of closer collaboration between automotive businesses in the two regions with follow-up engagement already planned.

The tour starts in Greenville, SC, home to BMW’s busiest car manufacturing plant in the world and Michelin’s North American headquarters, along with several dozen other automotive companies. The group will meet with local auto industry representatives before heading to Atlanta for the Southern Automotive Conference for two days. The event is expected to draw as many as 1,800 attendees and representatives from numerous foreign carmakers.

Paul Butler is CEO of NEAA, an industry-led cluster established to support the sustainable economic development and competitiveness of the automotive in Northeastern England. Several major auto manufacturers have production facilities in the region including Nissan, Komatsu, Caterpillar and Cummins; plus a number of global automotive supply chain companies. Butler believes strengthening transatlantic ties within the sector could be an important factor in its continued success.

“The growth of the automotive industry in our two regions, the Southeast US and the North East of England, are incredibly similar. In addition, the acceleration towards electrification and to industrial digitalization means we will see more change in the automotive sector over the next ten years than we have in its history to date. Because of that, there is a tremendous opportunity right now for businesses in those regions to continue their growth through partnership and collaboration,” he said. “However, to truly capitalize on this opportunity those outside of the automotive industry must take on some of the responsibility as well. Womble Bond Dickinson recognizes that and we’re very happy to have their support.”

Stuart Wardlaw will be representing Womble Bond Dickinson’s Newcastle (UK) office in the delegation. He has spent years advising automotive companies and says the law firm intends to do more than simply drum-up work for itself.

“The UK government’s new export strategy is focused on growing marketplace relationships and opportunities that already exist,” he said. “Because of our deep roots in the Southeastern US and Northeast of England, we believe Womble Bond Dickinson is well-positioned to be a conduit of business development between the two regions in general and within the automotive industry in particular.”

Michael Sullivan echoed those thoughts. Sullivan is based in the firm’s Atlanta office and also has a wealth of experience working with automotive manufacturers, giving him a front row seat to the industry’s rise in Georgia. He expects technology – and the regulation of that technology – will dominate the conversations at this year’s automotive conference.

“The advances in technology truly have opened up the automotive industry to manufacturers of all sizes all over the world,” he said. “That’s why creating cooperative efforts like this delegation are so important. More than ever before, success is going to rely on staying connected, staying informed, and staying ahead.”

The Upstate SC Alliance, a regional economic development organization, is also working to build business connections between the Upstate region and the United Kingdom and partnered in welcoming the delegation. 
“The United Kingdom is a strong partner region for the Upstate, and its automotive companies have a tremendous amount of shared interest with those in the Upstate. We’re pleased to welcome this delegation and engage in dialogue about how public-private collaboration have enabled our region’s automotive cluster growth,” said John Lummus, President & CEO of the Upstate SC Alliance.  

Womble Bond Dickinson lawyers Jamie Francis, Jack Penny, Robert Phillips and Jonny Gribben will also be in the delegation along with Matthew Morris, a Trade and Investment Associate with DIT, and Stephanie Hinrichs, a Director of Client Service with the firm.