Hitachi Rail is targeting lucrative train building contracts in Merseyside, Wales and Scotland as the Japanese group looks to smash the dominance of the European market’s three biggest manufacturers.
Alistair Dormer, chief executive and executive chairman at Hitachi Rail Europe, told The Independent that he wants the big three of Siemens, Bombardier and Alstom to become four within five years.
Hitachi has already made a major statement of intent during the summer, with the confirmation of a £1.2bn Department for Transport contract to build 30 intercity express trains for the East Coast Main Line.
Now Mr Dormer is looking to bid on new train sets for Edinburgh-to-Glasgow, Valleys & Cardiff and Merseyrail. The last contract alone would be worth £400m, while the Scottish and Welsh routes need new trains as part of their electrification programmes.
He said that Hitachi is “knocking on the door” of gate-crashing the big three, but would also have to win work in Germany and Scandinavia to secure a market-leading position.
“We would have to expand our footprint in Europe,” Mr Dormer added. “But the UK is a natural home for Japanese investment: the language is right, plus Nissan, Toyota and Honda are all here.”
Winning any of the British contracts would also secure the long-term future of the factory that Hitachi is about to build in County Durham. Next month Vince Cable and Patrick McLoughlin, the business and transport secretaries respectively, will speak at a ceremony marking the start of construction of the Newton Aycliffe site, where 270 intercity train carriages will be built by 730 workers. Hitachi is also consulting on the proposed £42.7bn High Speed Two railway, which has proved so controversial among Middle Englanders, who argue the project will blight the countryside and lacks a solid business case.
The Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that HS2 could be abandoned if cross-party support is not maintained, after the increasingly sceptical shadow chancellor Ed Balls was given the final decision on whether Labour still backs the project.
Mr Dormer said: “We are advising HS2 because Japan is very similar to Britain and has high-speed rail. There are the hills, it’s an island, and densely populated.”
Providing consultancy services is also a way that could help propel Hitachi to the front of HS2’s thinking when it eventually asks for bids to build the trains for the new line, which will start by linking London and Birmingham and will later be extended to Manchester and Leeds.
Hitachi Rail started working in the UK more than 10 years ago, and is best known for building the 140mph Javelin, Britain’s version of Japan’s Bullet train.
These are used on High Speed One, the line that connects King’s Cross St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel in Kent.
“The Javelins have worked out pretty well,” Mr Dormer said. “All of the Europeans know about them.”