Hunts could become large producer of cars and motorbikes

AFFORDABLE motorbikes and cars could soon be produced in Huntingdonshire as part of an entrepreneur s plans to crack the automotive market. Motorbike production could begin within the next few years – and volume car production within a decade. The plans c

AFFORDABLE motorbikes and cars could soon be produced in Huntingdonshire as part of an entrepreneur's plans to crack the automotive market.

Motorbike production could begin within the next few years - and volume car production within a decade.

The plans come from specialist composites manufacturer Cellbond, based at Huntingdon's Stukeley Meadows Industrial Estate, which later this month will start selling low-cost motorcycles from China.

The first consignment landed last week and has now reached the company after Customs clearance.

The bikes are around half the price of their Japanese competitors, but the price is likely to rise as China's emerging tiger economy grows, Cellbond managing director Mike Ashmead, a recent Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business person of the Year winner.

That will prompt the company to start manufacturing here in the next few years, as its product knowledge grows and it can introduce other Cellbond technology into new designs.

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Dr Ashmead, who founded the 110-employee company 20 years ago, added: "My vision is that in the next five to 10 years we shall manufacture a car, possibly something like the old Messerschmitt in which the passenger sat behind the driver.

"It would be very versatile and easily manoeuvrable in traffic. I envisage different engine modules - electric, hybrid and diesel.

"With everything you have to have a dream, and we are doing everything to make it a reality."

The first ZingBikes - scooters, conventional motorcycles and the Vogue 150 trike that can be driven on a car licence - are expected to go on sale in two weeks' time, but not before each model has been tested for quality and upgraded at the Huntingdon headquarters.

"We want them to be absolutely right. If a small piece doesn't work, the whole thing is condemned. If you buy an otherwise perfectly good car, it's the niggling rattle that colours your view of it."

Zing will add safety features, such as light-emitting diode lighting and high-visibility paint options, developed in other parts of the Cellbond group, where the core business is based on composites technology, particularly for safety applications.

ZingBikes will also be developing a range of helmets, clothing and other accessories - based on the parent company's experience in crash safety and its part in the European Mimosa project on motorcycle safety.

"We shall be testing some of our own energy-absorbing materials so that we can produce an even safer helmet," Dr Ashmead added.

The idea for the bikes and the longer-term ambition for car manufacture emerged because of currency fluctuations in Cellbond's largely export-led business. "We price in US dollars, Yen or Euros, so we are at the mercy of changes in currency rates. So we decided to balance that with imports, turning a problem into an opportunity.

"I was a bit of a motorcyclist in my younger days, and you have to do things you like. We shall be doubling the size of the company, and we shall manufacture in Huntingdon if we can find a site. You want to be as close as possible to your other operations."

Cellbond has ambitious plans for the emerging ZingBikes brand, including selling back to China when it starts to manufacture here and creating a second-hand market for exporting reconditioned machines to third world countries.

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