THE future of dozens of jobs at a Wearside truck manufacturer is uncertain after it unveiled plans to start production in the Far East.
Smith Electric Vehicles, which has a factory in Vigo Lane, Washington, has signed a letter of intent to form a joint venture with the Taikang Technology Corporation in Taiwan.
The agreement will see the creation of a new manufacturing plant in Taiwan, but while company bosses are sure it will mean good news for the firm, the Echo understands workers have heard it means their roles are at risk.
“This is another significant milestone for Smith,” said chief executive officer Bryan Hansel, who is also a co-founder of the company.
“With this letter of intent, we are eager to complete our first ever licensee agreement for the company.
“Smith Electric plans more licensee agreements to support its long-term global growth strategy to meet growing demand for fleet transformation through electrification around the world.”
It is believed staff have been told the firm plans to close its UK manufacturing operation, with the company’s research and development operation moving to a new centre of excellence to be developed on the North East Low Carbon Enterprise Zone site near Nissan.
A company spokeswoman refused to confirm or deny the closure rumours, but did confirm the company was looking at its UK operation.
“Smith has issued a statement at the Washington facility with regard to its ongoing focus and activities and has commenced a comprehensive review of its UK operations,” she said.
“The business is moving towards a structure that will provide support for future licensee and JV partners, which better fits the evolving needs of our customers in the global electric vehicle market.
“Washington has developed a unique core of technology skills around Smith Drive, Smith Power, Smith Link and the development of commercial electric vehicles and we intend to enhance and continue these within Smith Electric in the North East region.”