Sunderland hailed as work begins on U.S. automotive leader's European R&D centre

Lear Corporation’s President of Global Just In Time, Gideon Jewel, flew to Sunderland this week to visit the site of the company’s European Foam Research and Development Centre of Excellence, to be built at the company’s Sunderland plant.

The US automotive giant chose Sunderland for its European Foam centre of excellence against strong competition across Europe. The investment will bring new, highly skilled jobs to the city, and further extend Lear’s presence at Rainton Bridge.

The Foam centre will test Lear products in depth and analyse chemical formulations to assess and improve all elements of the company’s foam material for its range of automotive seating systems. Building and fitting out of the R&D centre is expected to be completed by September 2017.

The changes in the materials for car seat filling have transformed over the years from horse hair and springs to much lighter, flexible foam manufactured by Lear.

Developing new foam material requires detailed research and the latest testing technology to adapt to changes in automotive engineering, increasingly sophisticated car interior design, high performance demands and cost effectiveness.

Gideon Jewel said: “I’m delighted to see the start on site of the research and development unit, which is a hugely important new dimension of Lear’s work at Sunderland.

“Our R&D work can be likened to an experimental kitchen. It means we can rigorously test ingredients to produce the best possible recipe before we drive it forward. Lear Sunderland will be carrying out R&D for all our European plants.

“We chose Sunderland because of the proven capability and exceptional productivity of the workforce we have here and the consistent support we have had from Sunderland City Council since we opened the plant in 2011. They have a positive partnership approach which has been invaluable to us, and we thank them for their continuing advice and backing.”

Lear’s factory in Sunderland, which opened in 2011, was the company’s first UK foam manufacturing facility for vehicle seating and now employs 600 people in total across the two sites. The PU foam factory has ramped up production to meet existing Nissan business and additional business for Jaguar Landrover.

Two years ago, Lear Corporation made a multi-million pound investment to more than double the size of its plant at Rainton Bridge Industrial Estate, and create over 100 new jobs.

Lear is one of the world’s top automotive component makers with 243 manufacturing sites in 37 countries, employing around 150,000 people. Its seating and electrical components are found in more than 300 types of vehicle made by virtually every car manufacturer around the globe.

Chris Scott, Lear’s Global Foam Vice President, who will be visiting from the United States to review progress later this month, added: “The R&D unit will be working with local universities to extend the impact of the dedicated team and resources at Lear which will be carrying out experimental research and analysis as well as product development for our European plants.

“This is an exciting development and I’m looking forward to meeting the teams and reviewing progress later this month.”

Councillor Harry Trueman, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council believes that Lear’s decision to site its European Foam centre of excellence R&D at Sunderland highlights the city’s outstanding credentials as a first-choice location for knowledge economy and R&D companies.

He said: “It’s fantastic to see work start on the R & D centre of excellence, which will bring more highly skilled jobs to the city. Lear’s understanding of the talent and opportunities for R&D success in Sunderland led to its decision to invest in the city.

“The city’s close links between the university, businesses and City Council have proved to be a winning combination, producing positive results that boost growth.”