Aston Martin to drive £600m China investment in boost to May vision
30 January 2018, 11:26
Aston Martin is to announce investment deals in China this week that it will claim are worth more than £600m, boosting Theresa May's hopes that her first trade visit to the country will project her vision of a "global Britain".
Sky News has learnt that the luxury carmaker's chief executive, Andy Palmer, will unveil several agreements, including plans to open 10 new showrooms in China as it seeks to build its presence in one of the world's fastest-growing automotive markets.
Aston Martin will also announce an exchange programme involving Chinese engineering graduates through a tie-up with Sinomach, a state-owned Chinese manufacturing group, according to sources in Westminster.
The deals will form part of a five-year investment programme by Aston Martin, which will launch its new Vantage vehicle this year and its first-ever SUV in 2019.
An insider suggested that the Chinese push will benefit its new factory in Wales, where the new SUV is being built.
Mr Palmer's announcements will hand a boost to Downing Street officials hoping that the Prime Minister's long-delayed trade visit to China will enable her to trumpet burgeoning links with the world's second-largest economy.
Sky News revealed last week the list of more than 40 companies joining Mrs May on the trip, including a number of other car manufacturers and related businesses.
Among those joining Mrs May will be blue-chip public companies including BP, HSBC, Inmarsat, Standard Chartered, Sirius Minerals, Standard Life Aberdeen, AstraZeneca and the London Stock Exchange Group.
The composition of the delegation also reflects government priorities outlined in its recently published industrial strategy, with clean technology businesses such as Tevva Motors included on the trip.
Tevva is one of a number of automotive sector companies due to accompany Mrs May, with others including the testing group Horiba Mira, Jaguar Land Rover, McLaren and Norton Motorcycles.
Mr Palmer has become a regular fixture on overseas trade missions by government ministers because of the prestige attached to Aston Martin's brand and its association with the James Bond film franchise.
Significant growth in the Chinese market will be valuable to the company as its shareholders - Kuwait's Investment Dar and Investindustrial, an Italian investment firm - draw up plans to float the carmaker in the next two years.
Aston Martin declined to comment on Tuesday on its investment plans for China.
Sources said that Downing Street hoped to trumpet billions of pounds' worth of bilateral trade deals between British and Chinese companies by the end of the trip, which will include visits to Wuhan, Beijing and Shanghai.
Government estimates of the value of previous UK-China deals have been criticised as fanciful, and sources said it was crucial that Mrs May's trip provided a strong foundation for a post-Brexit trade agreement between the two countries.
However, the Financial Times said that Mrs May might refuse to endorse Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative - aimed at strengthening China's presence in major overseas infrastructure projects - which would strain relations between the two countries.
The PM has spoken frequently of her ambition for a "global Britain", but the UK continues to lag European rivals such as France and Germany in terms of the amount of business it does with China.
While Mrs May's delegation is much smaller than one which accompanied her predecessor, David Cameron, it is thought to be the largest to join her on any overseas trade mission since she became PM.
Mrs May said last January that she would visit China "relatively soon", since when she has faced a string of delays - some of which were self-inflicted.
An earlier date was removed because of the General Election campaign, while another provisional visit in November was postponed because of its close proximity to a trip by Donald Trump, the US President.
(c) Sky News 2018: Aston Martin to drive £600m China investment in boost to May vision