In January 1979 Mitsubishi Electric UK took over a colour TV plant in Haddington, East Lothian from bankrupt Norwegian company Tandberg, saving 120 jobs. Exports of colour TVs from Japan to the EU and particularly the UK had risen rapidly in the early 1970s, even though they were restricted to small screen sets. Then demand in the UK came to a sudden end and TV manufacturing in the UK had excess capacity. So the British government encouraged Japanese companies to take over existing plants. Japanese companies also chose the UK for manufacturing in Europe because there were no domestic manufacturers with government connections as there were in France (Thomson-Brandt) and the Netherlands (Philips). (1)
Mitsubishi Electric already had a representative office in London from 1969 and had turned it into subsidiary in 1972. This then became a branch of Mitsubishi Electric BV in the Netherlands in 1996. It has continued as a branch of the Netherlands based European regional HQ since.
By 1987 Mitsubishi Electric had established video recorder production facilities in Livingston, along with many other Japanese manufacturers starting production in Europe, in response to pressure and anti dumping proceedings from the European Commission. (2)
It acquired Britain’s Apricot Computers in April 1990, with a plant in Glenrothes and R&D in Birmingham, employing 442 in 1991. PC production was scheduled to treble to 100,000 per annum in 1993, with exports accounting for 25% of production, half to Japan. (3) Glenrothes was shut in 1999, blaming cheap competition in Asia.
The Haddington plant continued to make colour TVs and also microwave ovens, but when the price of TVs dropped, it was no longer profitable. In 1998 production ended, with 500 jobs lost. Production was transferred to Turkey.
Alister Jack, the then Scottish Tory spokesman on economic affairs, who later became Secretary of State for Scotland, attacked the Labour government on the closure: “There is little point of introducing a New Deal programme if they cannot hold on to existing jobs.”
Mitsubishi Electric hoped to focus on video recorder production and air conditioning at their Livingston plants. However, in 1999 it announced it would cut 6.100 jobs overseas and 8,400 jobs in Japan due to losses caused by falling semi-conductor prices and weak demand for consumer products.
The Livingston operation entirely focused on air conditioning and R&D for Europe moved there in 2013, with Mitsubishi Electric investing £20 million into the operation.
In 2017 air conditioner production started at Mitsubishi Electric’s new factory in Turkey. Thanks to the customs union with the EU, air conditioning exports from Turkey to the EU are tariff free.
Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioning UK employed over 1000 people In 2019. 77% of its sales of £200m were to non-UK EU countries, 20% to the UK. The plant was profitable despite a large increase in gas and transportation costs.
The UK is seen as a growing market, despite any Brexit impact, because of the need for green, affordable public sector housing. Mitsubishi Electric is dependent on imported components, but it is standard industry practice to hold 2.5 months of inventory, so it is hoping to weather any post Brexit logistics impact.
(1) Japanese Manufacturing Investment in Europe: Its impact on the UK economy” Roger Strange, Routledge, 1993 p 196
(2) ibid p 201
(2) ibid p 264
Photograph of Campbell Gill ~ Personnel Manager and Eric Murray the General Manager with the joint Managing Director Yoshio Noguchi 1984, credit: Angus N Bathgate https://www.facebook.com/groups/oldeastlothain/permalink/2402751853280700
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