Work on a multi-million alloy wheel factory got under way yesterday, with the first of more than 60 investigative boreholes being drilled.
The £120 million Liberty alloy factory in Lochaber will produce more than 2.1 million alloy wheels when it reaches full production in the mid to late 2020s, and will employ more than 400 people.
Around £2 million has already been invested in the Fort William site, with office blocks and site investigations under way for the production line.
Yesterday, Douglas Dawson, chief executive of the Liberty Industries Group, said the firm wants to be ready for new models emerging in 2022/2023.
Mr Dawson said: “I can not see a time when car manufacturing is not a large part of the UK industry.
“Although the industry is going through one of the biggest changes in its history from the combustible engine to electric power, and the added complications of the Brexit negotiations, we will always need four wheels on our cars.
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“We are confident we can meet that demand from Fort William.
“We want to have our product ready when it is required for the market.
“Vehicle manufacturing works on long-term design and production cycles, with new models expected to come on stream in 2022/2023.
“Our aim is to ensure this new wheels factory is up and running in time to feed supply into the chain for that next cycle.
“We have been working with car manufacturers who are bringing new models, or refreshed cars designs onto the market and building a product that meets the need for a particular product.”
He added that the firm would use their experience from their existing alloy wheels manufacturing plant in France to shape the development.
“Lochaber is unique, as we also make aluminium here,” Mr Dawson said. “At the moment ingots of aluminium are taken to wherever it is needed and re-heated for use.
“Our plan, called the Liberty Liquid Metal Index, would mean using the aluminium straight from the smelter into the alloy wheels plant. This will reduce the cost, and the environmental impact.
“We would initially look at having one production line, with an output of more than 700,000 wheels, with a further two lines coming on stream as demand, and new vehicles use our parts.”
The ground investigations at Fort William will lead to detailed designs for a factory at least the same size of the current smelter being drawn up for Highland Council approval. Construction is expected to begin in early 2020, continuing late into 2021.