Triumph invest in UK R&D as volume production moves to Thailand

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For the first time in the history of Triumph Motorcycles, all volume production models will be built outside of the UK, as the firm confirms its intent to move the last two UK produced models to its Thailand factories.

But this isn’t completely the end of UK production, with Triumph saying they will continue to build around 4500 motorcycles a year at their Hinckley factory after all volume production has moved abroad.

The Triumph production line at Hinckley

The move, announced to Triumph employees yesterday (February 20), will see the last remaining UK produced models – the Speed Triple and Tiger 1200 – join the rest of the range at the Chonburi, Thailand, production facilities. The net result for Hinckley is a reduction of around 2000 units per year, leaving only the high-end Triumph Factory Custom models and selected other special builds based on UK soil. The firm currently build around 65,000 bikes per year, with only 10% of that figure rolling out of the Hinckley facility.

Hinckley's gains and losses

With the last remaining volume production moving overseas, there will inevitably be an impact on the UK workforce, with Triumph confirming to MCN that they are now in consultation with up to 50 production role employees over the future of their jobs.

Triumph Thruxton and Rocket TFC

The firm says they will make every effort to absorb as many individuals back into other roles at Triumph, but there will inevitably be significant redundancies. The Hinckley factory will then see the installation of a new bespoke assembly line "to facilitate the more efficient production of specialist prototype bikes and the continued manufacturing of high-end bespoke motorcycles such as the Triumph Factory Custom (TFC) bikes," say Triumph.

Triumph’s Chief Executive Officer, Nick Bloor, added: "We are now preparing for Triumph’s next wave of strategic growth. We want to maximise the growth opportunity for the brand globally, particularly in the Asian markets. This is why we are increasing our design resources here in the UK and focusing our mass production capabilities in Thailand."

Nick Bloor, CEO of Triumph

Triumph’s Thailand production facilities currently operate on a two-shift system (out of a potential three), meaning they could increase production significantly. In reality, with only around 2000 extra models to build in the short term, there will be very little investment needed to meet the full current build requirement.

But while the impact of job losses and the last vestiges of UK volume production mark a sad development for the growing business, the firm have also committed to investing further in the Hinckley plant. They will significantly grow the scale and remit of their research and development department, committing to employing 20 more staff as they develop a 16,000-sqft dedicated R&D centre that will continue to design and develop all Triumph motorcycles. In the last five years, Triumph say they have increased their design and engineering headcount by 40%, and investment in new model development by 80%.

Triumph’s push to Thailand: why now?

Triumph’s Chief Commercial Officer, Paul Stroud, told MCN: "The motorcycle market in which we operate is constantly evolving, it’s dynamic and there are a number of things within the market that we are trying to respond to.

Paul Stroud, CCO of Triumph

"We are facing increased competition and some of our mainstream competitors are developing models to directly compete with us. There are also new entrants coming into the market with much lower price points. New model development timelines are accelerating with more manufacturers bringing out new models more quickly, while consumers are looking for more technology and you’ve also got the dynamic of the electric motorcycle opportunity as well. So, there’s an increasing burden on the cost and development of designing new motorcycles. Triumph is looking to grow in its existing markets, but also to grow internationally, especially in the Asian free trade markets."

The full switch-over is expected to be operational "from mid-2020 onwards" according to Stroud, while he conceded that if demand grows for more high-end specialist build Triumph models, that could – and would – be accommodated at Hinckley, but "the Centre of Excellence for mass manufacturing will remain in Thailand to help us to grow internationally." Triumph have confirmed that there will be no impact on UK bike availability as a result of the move, and that their CKD (Complete Knock Down) assembly facilities in Brazil and India will remain.

What about the Triumph-Bajaj collaboration?

Just four weeks ago, Triumph announced a deepening of their commercial partnership with Indian giant, Bajaj Auto India. The deal focusses on the creation of a new range of sub 500cc Triumph motorcycles, which will be designed in the UK, but developed and built in India under the partnership. These bikes, while targeted firmly at the huge emerging market opportunities, will also go on sale in the UK. The timeframe is unchanged as a result of the production move to Thailand, with first models expected to go on sale in India in two to three years, with global sales to follow shortly after.

Could this mean more new Triumphs?

Triumph have launched 14 new models in the last two years, but with greater investment in the firm’s Hinckley R&D facility in order to accelerate new model development and production, does this mean we’ll see an even bigger and more diverse Triumph range?

Triumph Bonnevilles old and new

"At the end of the day, if we’re investing in our ability to create new models more quickly then you could logically expect that this will be the output from it," says Stroud. "We genuinely want the facility to be able to deliver more world-class motorcycles, and to equip us for the future. There is no intention to downgrade our operation in the UK, this is a reconfiguring to allow us to grow internationally."

Triumph in numbers

  • 65,000 – bikes built per year
  • 6500 – bikes built in the UK
  • 1991 – the year first Hinckey Triumphs revealed
  • 1983 – collapsed business bought by John Bloor
  • 1902 – firm builds its first motorcycle
  • 1000 – UK employees
  • 1000 – overseas employees
  • 650 – global dealers
  • 85 – the percentage of Triumphs sold abroad
  • 3 – factories in Thailand

How does this affect Triumph in the UK?

The slightly painful truth is that very little will visibly change. The overwhelming majority – around 90% – of Triumphs are already built in their Thai factories meaning that many owners who think they’re riding a Hinckley model, aren’t. But all research and design remains in the UK, as does the production of the special TFC models. As consumers we’re unlikely see anything other than benefits, with more new Triumphs emerging faster, built to the same exacting standards we enjoy today. In real terms, only a relative handful of bikes have moved from UK production. Nonetheless, it’s sad to see such a prominent UK business needing to move more production abroad in order to effect growth.

What about electric bikes?

With the increase in UK R&D focus, could this mean an acceleration of the firm’s TE-1 electric bike project which was announced last year?

"It’s still on the same timeframe," says Stroud – which means the project will conclude in around eighteen months’ time before the next phase is announced. "We’re locked into a timeframe with our other partners, but one could logically conceive that as we’re developing a design and engineering team for the future then you’ve got to be looking at how you develop your electric bike design capabilities, and that project is very much part of that jigsaw."

While TE-1 might sound like a bike model, Triumph say this project is focused on battery technology, motors and the packaging constraints that currently hinder electric motorcycles – not building a specific single model. It’s happening in partnership with F1 legends, Williams, who will provide industry-leading lightweight battery design and integration knowledge. Other partners include motor and inverter experts, Integral Powertrain, the electric specialist team at the University of Warwick – WMG – and government funding via the Innovate UK science and technology agency.

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Richard Newland

By Richard Newland