Behind the scenes at Beck & Pollitzer - the most successful British automotive business you’ve never heard of
10 November 2018

If you want to know what state the world’s automotive industry is in, ask the boss of the company that installs many of its production lines and moves its factories around the globe. 

“Since 2014, our annual turnover has doubled: from £60 million in 2014 to £120m in 2018,” says Andrew Hodgson, CEO of Beck & Pollitzer. “Half of that growth has come from the automotive sector. The UK is our biggest single market but, encouraged by the country’s booming economy and the prospect of trade tariffs, we’re expanding our operations from the Carolinas and Nevada in the US, and also across Europe, and into Turkey and India.” 

Beck & Pollitzer? You may have seen its name on the sides of those huge mobile cranes that are drafted in for seriously heavy lifting. For example, it was a B&P crane that, in 2011, put the masts back onto the Cutty Sark during its restoration and, in 2005, a fleet of B&P cranes that hoisted the escalators and lifts into Heathrow Terminal 5. 

It’s been lifting, moving and storing things for 155 years; since 1863, in fact, when the company was founded by Sigismund Pollitzer and John Beck. Over the course of the next 100 years, its cranes, wharfs and warehouses came to dominate the banks of the Thames in Southwark, London. 

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B&P was at the heart of the UK’s post-war rebuilding effort, ensuring machines and materials got to where they needed to be. In 1985, it moved into automotive, installing the new body and press shops at Nissan UK. Four years later, it installed a 5000-tonne Hitachi Zosen press at Rover Group’s Longbridge plant. Over the course of the next two decades, it worked with most of Europe and Japan’s car makers, including with Toyota on the construction of its new Burnaston plant, and with BMW at Hams Hall and when the firm relocated its Mini and Rover 75 body shops. 

More recently, in 2013, it installed a major new assembly line for Jaguar Land Rover and an EV battery production line in the north-east. In the US, it’s installing a new battery line for a major EV manufacturer. During the next few years, the company plans to expand its automotive operations globally. 

“Facelifts and model changes are our bread and butter but, in the coming years, it will be electrification and the new models, drivelines, battery plants and materials which follow that will help drive our business,” says Hodgson. 

“The whole supply chain will be transformed by the journey from the internal combustion engine to electrification and we’ll be there, locating and installing.” 

After all the gloom and doom being generated by Brexit, it’s heartwarming to be in the presence of such a great British success story. B&P employs 800 people plus 1000 contractors across 23 offices in 18 countries, from the US to Russia. It has long-established relationships with many of the world’s car makers. With their suppliers, too, hauling and installing production line machinery for the likes of Comau (production line systems), Komatsu (presses, and milling and sheet metal machines) and Aida (stamping presses). 

“Installing the 150-tonne ‘crown’ on the top of a press, 10 metres high, requires the skill and equipment only a few companies such as ourselves possess,” says Hodgson. “We’re doing exactly that job in Russia at the moment, only it’s complicated by the fact that we’re having to remove the old crown first…” 

This is the second time I’ve met B&P’s boss. The first was a few weeks ago at South Mimms service station on the M25 when I was reporting on the Tesla Superchargers located there. Hodgson had arrived in his Tesla Model S, fresh from Heathrow and the US where he had just clinched a deal with a major European car maker to install its new assembly line at its plant in the Carolinas. 

Intrigued, I promised I’d catch up with him to hear more about what must surely be one of the biggest and most important UK automotive businesses you’ve never heard of. 

“It’s frustrating,” he tells me when eventually we meet at B&P’s Dartford HQ. “Car manufacturers do like to keep their cards close to their chest, so we don’t talk about specific contracts and customers.” 

Such is the competitive nature of the auto industry; one that functions on paper-thin margins, split-second timing and surprise. 

“It’s a high-pressure world and we’re right in the middle of it, between supplier and contractor,” says Hodgson. “If we’re as little as one hour late commissioning a production line, there’s a huge cost implication. 

“Once the line is up and running, a B&P team will often remain permanently on site, ensuring that any changes to production machinery can be made with as little interruption as possible.” 

Installation begins with the company’s surveyors identifying the precise location of machinery fixings on the factory floor with a laser positioning tool. The result is an accurate installation template that, if necessary, can be duplicated at another site, possibly on the other side of the world, should the factory need to be relocated. 

“Naturally, we like factories with lots of doors,” says Hodgson. “Getting the moving and installation sequence right is critical – you don’t want to be lifting a giant press over the top of an assembly line – and having numerous entry points gives us greater flexibility.” 

B&P may have strong global connections but there are still some places it fears to tread. “Commercial practices in some parts of the world can be challenging,” says Hodgson. 

Some of those practices can include leaning on B&P’s project managers to trim their health and safety budgets. 

“Doing the kind of work we do, we won’t take chances with health and safety, and push back on any client who asks us to,” says Hodgson. “One injury is one too many.” 

I couldn’t agree more. The thought of that 150-tonne crown landing on my toe makes my hair curl.

JOHN EVANS

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9

10 November 2018

.... in the title

10 November 2018

"The UK is our biggest single market but, encouraged by the country’s booming economy and the prospect of trade tariffs, we’re expanding our operations from the Carolinas and Nevada in the US, and also across Europe, and into Turkey and India.”

Hmm, strange.  I thought Brexit was already having a negative impact, according to a couple of intellectually-challenged people here on this forum, Mike Hawes, and Jaguar Land Rover.  Seems not.  Here's some more:

"British tech companies raised 4.5 billion pounds ($6.1 billion) in 2017, almost double the amount raised the year before, according to the report from Tech Nation, an organization partly funded by the government to promote the U.K.’s digital economy. The country ranks behind only the U.S. and China for venture capital investment, the report said."  Bloomberg.

"Britain's businesses are prospering despite fears over the state of the economy, with profits rising and investment spending back on the agenda.  Although companies remain cautious because of political uncertainty, their finances are in increasingly good shape, according to a survey from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).  Profits and exports are both growing at the fastest pace since 2015 – well before the Brexit vote – and capital investment spending is also at a two-year high. Employment intentions are robust and research and development spending is also on the up."  Telegraph.

In fact, there are so many examples that there's too many to post here.  This will not be reported on the BBC, of course.  But as I've said before, do your own research - simply type "UK companies booming despite Brexit".  I should remind you, however, that the Brexit vote was about politics, NOT economics (as those who lost the referendum will fail to point out repeatedly).  However, it's good that this Autocar article shows companies are not only still doing well, but will take advantage of Brexit.  To all the trolls: go ahead, have a feast of misery.

I say my bit, then go. So although I'm interested in what you may initially say, I don't care what you think about what I've written, so I won't read whatever your reply is.

10 November 2018
That bloke wrote:

"The UK is our biggest single market but, encouraged by the country’s booming economy and the prospect of trade tariffs, we’re expanding our operations from the Carolinas and Nevada in the US, and also across Europe, and into Turkey and India.”

Hmm, strange.  I thought Brexit was already having a negative impact, according to a couple of intellectually-challenged people here on this forum, Mike Hawes, and Jaguar Land Rover.  Seems not.  Here's some more:

"British tech companies raised 4.5 billion pounds ($6.1 billion) in 2017, almost double the amount raised the year before, according to the report from Tech Nation, an organization partly funded by the government to promote the U.K.’s digital economy. The country ranks behind only the U.S. and China for venture capital investment, the report said."  Bloomberg.

"Britain's businesses are prospering despite fears over the state of the economy, with profits rising and investment spending back on the agenda.  Although companies remain cautious because of political uncertainty, their finances are in increasingly good shape, according to a survey from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).  Profits and exports are both growing at the fastest pace since 2015 – well before the Brexit vote – and capital investment spending is also at a two-year high. Employment intentions are robust and research and development spending is also on the up."  Telegraph.

In fact, there are so many examples that there's too many to post here.  This will not be reported on the BBC, of course.  But as I've said before, do your own research - simply type "UK companies booming despite Brexit".  I should remind you, however, that the Brexit vote was about politics, NOT economics (as those who lost the referendum will fail to point out repeatedly).  However, it's good that this Autocar article shows companies are not only still doing well, but will take advantage of Brexit.  To all the trolls: go ahead, have a feast of misery.

Read your comment and could not work out whether you were for or against Brexit.

10 November 2018

Why does that matter?

It doesn't.

Do you need your opinion positively reinforced to you or others?

Projection or transference?

TSV

10 November 2018

Companies like JLR are using Brexit as an excuse to move manufacturing to a cheaper country, I suspect. Obviously they won't pass the savings onto the customer. They'll expect people to pay the same for a car made in Slovakia as they will for one built in the UK. Who wants a car built in Slovakia? They have no experience at all at building prestige cars whatsoever. If I was buying a LandRover, personally, I'd want it built in Britain.

10 November 2018

I agree, some companies are deliberately masking economic solutions on Brexit. It is a real shit trick. Quality dimishes, price increases...how do they get away with it?..Vote with your wallet, don't buy it.

Do you honestly believe that a JLR product is built to a noticibly better standard than a skoda?

DO you think a USA built X5 is a significantly better build than a Japanese Rav 4 or a Sunderland built Qashqai?

FMS

10 November 2018
Locknload66 wrote:

I agree, some companies are deliberately masking economic solutions on Brexit. It is a real shit trick. Quality dimishes, price increases...how do they get away with it?..Vote with your wallet, don't buy it.

Do you honestly believe that a JLR product is built to a noticibly better standard than a skoda?

DO you think a USA built X5 is a significantly better build than a Japanese Rav 4 or a Sunderland built Qashqai?

 

You might be missing the point...it seems to be all about perceptions, rather than plain facts. If a buyer considers that a German brand is better built (even if built outside Germany), through memories and traditional recall of years gone by marketing, then that will reinforce and rationalise their buying decisions.

 

Very few car buyers will ever admit to making an irrational, incorrect choice, simply because those who know enough about cars to enquire of them about their choice, will never hear an admission of that poor buying decision. It would be tantamout to saying..."I know nothing about the market place that I bought into, even although I bought an item, that excluding my home, is the 2nd most expensive thing I will ever purchase.

 

Old beliefs die hard and a certain German maker whos cars were over engineered in the 70's and 80's, slipped up very badly, when they cut costs and suffered huge reputational damage in the 90's and noughties.

 

 

FMS

10 November 2018
TSV wrote:

Companies like JLR are using Brexit as an excuse to move manufacturing to a cheaper country, I suspect. Obviously they won't pass the savings onto the customer. They'll expect people to pay the same for a car made in Slovakia as they will for one built in the UK. Who wants a car built in Slovakia? They have no experience at all at building prestige cars whatsoever. If I was buying a LandRover, personally, I'd want it built in Britain.

 

Just so many errors in your thought process...to begin with...provide proof, real facts that show cars built within the territorial boundaries of Slovakia, are less in any measurable way than those built elsewhere in Europe?. Your assertion strongly suggests that car companies let new workers loose on production lines, without training, without building pre-production cars, without anything. Why on earth would any manufacturer risk their rep, by being so stupid, not to mention that automotive investigative reporters, would sniff this un-coverupable story out in a second.

 

JLR need no excuse to build cars away from the UK. Many manufacturers have left their own country boundaries and established factories abroad or used foreign sub contractors to build specific models, well before Brexit was even though of.

 

Come on, lets get this discussion under way!.

11 November 2018
FMS wrote:

JLR need no excuse to build cars away from the UK. Many manufacturers have left their own country boundaries and established factories abroad or used foreign sub contractors to build specific models, well before Brexit was even though of.

With all due respect, there's always an excuse, some more valid than others. All manufacturers have production plants outside their home market for various reasons, but very few have abandoned their home market altogether.

Take MG for example, as far as we're concerned the mark is as British as afternoon tea and the Chinese did a great job of promoting that. Even after seeing the adverts and listening to popular journalists like Quinten Wilson, folk would be forgiven for believing MG cars werre being manufactured in Britain. I suggest the same to be true with JLR, so yes Brexit is a very convenient excuse to move operations out of the UK (no doubt they'll leave behind a few folk with a Nespresso in the office and claim their's some sort of UK connection). No need to con the public into some make-believe bull they're as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

As for loosing quality by building elsewhere - I agree, it's absolute rubbish. It's not where the car is built but how the car is built. Honda's reputation for quality and reliability took a serious dent with it's Mexican Celaya facility. Basically quality control was lacking. So yes it is important where a car is built but it's the manufacturer who's responsible for problems, not the country.

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