Kevin O’Neil, Deputy Managing Director at Nissan Sunderland Plant, is taking over as chair of the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) from Kevin Fitzpatrick, who has served as chairman since the launch of NEAA in 2015, following his promotion to Senior Vice President, Manufacturing, Supply Chain Management and Purchasing, Nissan Europe.

Kevin O’Neil will provide the regional presence required of the fast-growing organisation, which is now the largest automotive cluster in the UK with 300 members.

The automotive sector is a major contributor to the regional economy, generating sales of over £11bn annually in the North East and directly employs over 30,000. The sector is predicted to grow by more than £3bn by 2021.

Kevin O’Neil said: “I’m delighted to be appointed chair of the North East Automotive Alliance.

“The organisation has grown strongly because it provides valuable support for our automotive sector.

“There are many opportunities ahead for companies in the automotive industry in North East England to win new business in the UK and overseas and to improve their competitiveness and capability.

“The NEAA provides the platform for making sure companies in the North East are able to take full advantage of these opportunities.”

Attracting new companies and jobs to the region, supporting business excellence and best practice and providing strategic leadership to grow the industry is at the heart of the network.

It also provides benchmarking, helps companies to boost efficiency and reduce costs, and work to increase the region’s competitiveness in this key sector.

Kevin Fitzpatrick said: “As the NEAA’s first chairman it was obvious from the outset that NEAA fulfils an important role in the region.

“It’s been a productive three years which has seen the cluster grow beyond our initial expectations, whilst the working groups have developed an unprecedented level of collaboration in the region.

“Going forward new activities within the cluster will take it to another level and Kevin O’Neil’s experience will bring depth and strength to his role. I wish him and the cluster all success in the future.”

The NEAA is industry-led, with an executive and advisory board who formulate a strategy for the group centred around five key schematic areas of activity.

These include networking and connectivity, business competitiveness, skills, innovation and technology, and trade and investment.

It brings together major names including Nissan, Komatsu, Cummins, Adient, Borg Warner, Calsonic Kansei, Gestamp, Lear Corporation, Nifco, SNOP, Unipres, ZF-TRW, as well as innovative SMEs such as Hyperdrive Innovation and AVID Technology Group.

Paul Butler, chief executive of NEAA said: “I’d like to thank Kevin Fitzpatrick for his support and guidance over the past three years.

“Undoubtedly Kevin was instrumental in the formation of the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) having recognised its potential to bring the sector together and to drive regional competitiveness. His drive and passion for the sector has overseen our remarkable success.”

Butler continued: “We are entering an important period for the cluster. We are operating in a very different environment than we were at our launch.

“At that point new technologies such as connected and autonomous driving and the electrified propulsion systems seemed a number of years away, we didn’t have an Industrial Strategy and Industry 4.0 was not on many companies’ radar.

“These are really exciting times for the automotive sector and I welcome Kevin O’Neil as chair.

“We are ambitious for the future and will take this opportunity to refresh our strategy. We not only want to grow our membership but introduce new benefits to help North East based automotive companies thrive.”