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Academy makes the best of British

The start of the transition of Bentley back to a company of “real significance” was the use of the enormous pool of engineering talent that exists in Britain, the head of the prestige car company said last week.

Franz-Josef Paefgen, chairman and chief executive of Bentley Motors, was delivering the annual lecture to the Automotive Academy at the Palace of Westminster.

He believes Bentley is a perfect fit within the Volkswagen Group because of the organisation’s need to “grow its competence at the top end of the business.”

During Paefgen’s time at the top, Bentley has moved from “cottage industry to modern factory”.

Continued growth is assured, he says. Over the next couple of years the production should build to 9,000 a year from last year’s 6,300.

There are challenges, though. Bentley is now taking 50% of the UK market for cars priced £100,000 to £150,000, while that segment has risen from 3,000 a year to 12,000.

“Others have spotted this niche now and we have no time to rest on our laurels,” says Paefgen.

In no small part, the ability to stay ahead rests with the strength of the British experience in quality car manufacture.

Constantly upgrading those British skills is what the Automotive Academy is all about. The Academy is fast becoming the model for other industry groups to ensure that British manufacturing skills don’t decay again. More than £6m has been drawn from a variety of Government sources to get automotive training schemes in place.

However, the Academy’s chief executive, Alan Begg, reckons there are problems in delivery of courses. His judgement is that there is “pretty variable quality among the trainers and assessors” in British academia and skill centres. Of the first 300 that went through accreditation “only a handful met our standards”.

The key to getting smaller supply companies to send staff for a skills make-over is to show that the successful companies are committed to the same process, says Begg.

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