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GLOBALOUTLOOK EXECUTIVEDECISION


Ridinghomejumpingtariffs J


E-BIKE MANUFACTURER VOLT SHIFTS PRODUCTION TO MILTON KEYNES TO DODGE TARIFF UNCERTAINTY. JACOPO DETTONI REPORTS


ames Metcalfe vividly recalls one of Volt’s definingmoments. “We had a boardmeeting and I said:


‘Let’s do it now’,” he says, referring to the deci- sionmade in early 2018 to bring Volt’s produc- tion of electric bicycles fromPoland to Milton Keynes, in a bid to dodge the looming tariff uncertainty for British importers. “We had been flirting with the idea of doing


it for a fewyears. It reallywas a very forceful movement for us to just do it because of Brexit.” The decision put an end to years of offshore


production and paved the way for the develop- ment of Volt’s base in Milton Keynes, 70km north-west of London,which nowgives the company direct access to the country’s boom- ing e-bikes market.


Jumping tariffs The Metcalfe brothers—James and Lyle— launched the company in 2011 as a rental busi- ness making e-bikes, then a rare sight, availa- ble for London tours. But things took an unexpected twist:


“While we didn’t sell any tours, we soldmost of our bikes,” Mr Metcalfe recalls. The brothers promptly adjusted their busi-


nessmodel to enter the country’s nascent e-bike market, over the years gaining the share and recognition that have validated Volt’s offer, despite growing competition. It did not take long for legacy producers to ditch their initial scepticism and invest heavily in e-bikes. The company first set up production in


China, in partnership with Swedish e-bike peer Ecoride, beforemoving to Poland in mid-2017 as the EU started considering anti-dumping duties on e-bikes imports fromChina. “While this was happening, we decided to


jump the gameand we set up a factory in Poland,” Mr Metcalfe recalls. The EU eventually slapped anti-dumping duties on Chinese e-bikes imports in January 2019. However, global trade disruptions didnot


stopat the Europeanborder.While Voltwas set- tingupin Poland, theUKtriggered Article 50, thus setting inmotionits departure fromtheEU. “We didn’t want to face duties again. True,


it’s more expensive to produce in the UK, but I canmanage that. What I cannot anticipate is guessingwhere duties are going to be in six months,” Mr Metcalfe explains. “[Back then] it really meant basing allmy


risk, business, livelihood, as well as the staff’s livelihood, on taking chances that the duties will not change. The risk of having to guess what was going to happen outweighed the risks of setting up here.”


14


Ride on time: the Metcalfe brothers launched Volt in 2011


MiltonKeynes Volt’s facility in Milton Keynes opened doors in July 2020 with a production capacity of up to 20,000 e-bikes per year. “Milton Keynes was the perfect set-up for


us, for its geography, but for suppliers of the likes of Shimano that we could find there already. Having themon our doorstep is very useful.” One of the new towns the UK government


built in the 1960s to relieve housing conges- tion in London, Milton Keynes has become a logistics hub for big names—fromretailers H&Mand John Lewis to the ubiquitous Amazon—and,more recently, a tech hub. “We got contacted by local suppliers that


can build anything from screws to robots. A lot of entrepreneurial companies have arrived in Milton Keynes with the view that it’s a hub for resources,where there is a lot you can draw fromlocal people and business to assist your company and get better.Weare still using 90% of components ultimatelymanufactured abroad, but we are gradually looking at getting more of what we need locally.” The ‘slowbalisation’ process that started


years ago withthe rise of trade tensions and regionalisms triggered Volt’s reshoring, eventu- ally landing thecompany a spot in Milton Keynes.Nowthat tariffs are not a concern any more, the Metcalfe brothers can finally dedicate all their efforts to ride a once-in-lifetime opportu- nity: the boomingdomesticmarket for e-bikes.■


www.fDiIntelligence.com December 2020/January 2021 PROJECTPROFILE


VOLT, MILTON KEYNES


Maximumproduction capacity 20,000 e-bikes per year


Jobcreation 30


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