Dunlop may end tyre manufacturing at Fort Dunlop in 2014

Despite an illustrious history dating back to 1917, 30 May could mark the end of an era for Dunlop as officials confirmed that its motorsports tyre manufacturing operation will have to find a new home away from the historic Fort Dunlop site from 2014 if their new landlord doesn’t lease it back to them again. According to the landlord, Canmoor, the site has been sold to neighbouring Jaguar Land Rover. Therefore it looks likely that Dunlop Aircraft Tyres (a completely separate company from Goodyear Dunlop) will be the only tyre manufacturing operation remaining in Birmingham after the end of the current lease. Dunlop’s annual motorsport tyre output is currently believed to be around 200,000 units. 180 manufacturing staff are employed there along with roughly 120 tyre testing, sales and marketing personnel.

“We have a robust contingency plan to ensure continued supply of our motorsport tyres to our key customers. Our first aim is to assess impact and evaluate possible alternatives.” stated Jean-Felix Bazelin, general manager, Dunlop Motorsport Europe.

“Jaguar Land Rover has exchanged unconditional contracts with Canmoor Developments Limited to acquire approximately 11 acres of land adjacent to its Castle Bromwich manufacturing plant. Jaguar Land Rover continues to work in partnership with local authorities and businesses to ensure that our growth plans support the local economy and community,” a Jaguar Land Rover spokesperson told reporters.

At this point it is worth defining what we mean by Fort Dunlop. The eye-catching Fort Dunlop building that is something of a landmark in Birmingham and which is visible to the millions of motorists that make their way up and down that part of the M6 motorway each year is just part of the Fort Dunlop site. This building had acted as the company’s warehousing centre until the 1980s, but laid empty from then through the Sumitomo-Goodyear joint venture initiation at the turn of the millennium and until around 2006. Goodyear Dunlop’s current UK and Ireland headquarters, Tyre Fort, resides in the same general area but the land this operation is built on is not affected by the news of the sale.

What next?

With Dunlop’s motorsport tyre production in need of a new home, the obvious question is “where’s next?” Potential alternatives mooted in the local and trade press include transfer of the Fort Dunlop production to the company’s Wolverhampton plant, which currently focuses on compound and retread production. Goodyear Dunlop representatives didn’t engage in any speculation about this, but did report that their focus is on continuity for the business’ customers: “[the company] remains committed to the motorsport business and currently sources motorsport tyres from several countries including the UK”. Nevertheless the Wolverhampton move could be one of a number of options being considered.

However, the news did result in concerns from a local politician. In a statement Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington said his prime concern is for the employees at Dunlop Motorsport. He went on to commit to work with both companies to explore “all options including the relocation of the Dunlop factory elsewhere in Birmingham” if it proves impossible to remain on its current site, according to ITV News.

Dromey’s statement added: “Fort Dunlop and the remaining Dunlop factories producing motorsport tyres and aircraft tyres is a piece of Birmingham History. I welcome the fact that the site will continue to support motor manufacturing in the Midlands, with the expansion of Jaguar Land Rover, a world-class company with a world-class workforce going from strength to strength. The task now is to secure the future of Dunlop Motorsport.”

At one point the wider Fort Dunlop site was known as the world’s largest tyre factory, when it employed 3,200 workers under a single roof. By 1954 some 10,000 workers were thought to have been employed across the whole site. Around 180 people are currently employed in manufacturing Motorsport tyres at Fort Dunlop. Goodyear Dunlop employs over 800 people in the wider West Midlands area.

In 2006 the site entered a new chapter when the re-vamped Fort Dunlop warehousing building, which is visible from the M6 opened its doors to design consultancy Boxer. The six-storey building had undergone a £40 million refurbishment, having stood empty for a quarter of a century. Trinity Mirror Group and Travelodge have since taken up residence there.

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