Export markets take between 75 and 80 per cent of this number, and Pirelli’s Carlisle products also feature as OE equipment on some of the world’s most respected automotive brands. In a recent interview with the Cumberland News, Pirelli’s head of operations and Carlisle and Burton-on-Trent, Wolfgang Meier, spoke about the operation he oversees.
The Dalston Road factory in Carlisle produces tyres for the very top end of the market, and therefore quality is of the highest importance. Even the slightest imperfection will cause a tyre to fall foul of the plant’s quality standards.
In the words of Wolfgang Meier: “When you consider a tyre is the only thing between a car doing 150mph and the road, it is clear you need it to be perfect. It is critical for performance and safety that a tyre is as close to perfect as is possible.”
And, Meier believes that both the facilities at his factory and the 900+ workforce have what it takes to provide quality to these meticulous standards. “We have some of the best tyre makers in the world here in Carlisle,” says Meier. “And, the city should be very proud of them. They are at the technological edge of the industry.”
It is this niche position at the top end of the market that appears to assure the future of Pirelli’s Carlisle facility at a time when so many leading brands are moving their tyre production capacity to countries with lower overheads. China and India at this time still lack the expertise required to make products such as those Pirelli makes in Cumbria, and the company reportedly has no plans to move their productions facilities elsewhere.
Indeed, Pirelli has implemented new technologies to ensure that production costs are minimized. “It is an efficient, streamlined factory,” says Meier. “But we have to stay competitive, and that means controlling costs and reducing waste.” A significant cost saving initiative is the construction of a 393ft wind turbine at the Carlisle premises. The turbine, which cost £2m turbine to build, will generate 20 per cent of the tyre plant’s energy and save £700,000 a year, a significant amount considering that energy costs have doubled in little over two years. “It is something we could not ignore, and the windmill is something we have thought about for a long time,” he adds. “Carlisle is a very windy place, and it makes sense to take advantage of that.”
As well as the financial benefits for Pirelli, the wind turbine plays its own small role in producing energy that is environmentally friendly. And, these days environmental issues are closely observed by Pirelli’s decision makers at Carlisle. A large portion of the factory’s output services the SUV market, vehicles increasingly singled out by green campaigners and many in the media as fuel-guzzling planet wreckers. But, so far, sales of SUV tyres have not suffered from this negative publicity. “It has not been an issue for us yet,” says Meier. “The SUV market is still growing worldwide.”