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ZeroLight – the business revolutionising global car sales

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ is a new report published by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership – in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and North East England Chamber of Commerce – that outlines how the region can build its competitiveness, drive higher productivity, and create more and better jobs by increasing international trade.

To demonstrate how an increase in exporting in the North East can help build the region’s economy, below is a case study about cloud-based visualisation specialists, ZeroLight, and the company’s expansion into the global automotive market thanks to its pioneering ‘configurator’ platform.


From Lamborghini to Mitsubishi, global carmakers are turning to the talent of North East tech experts to sell cars in the COVID era.

Newcastle-based ZeroLight’s latest project has seen it successfully partner up with online retail giants Amazon, to create a platform for car manufacturers to launch new vehicles to the mass market, with access to the business’ pioneering “configurator”.

The company’s platform recently enabled the new Mitsubishi Outlander to become the first model ever launched on the Amazon Live platform. Car buyers in the USA can scrutinise the vehicle and make modifications before it even goes on sale, and subsequent marketing received by users will all feature the personal modifications they made to the vehicle.

ZeroLight is exporting its services across the world, working with the likes of Audi and VW in Germany, Mitsubishi in Japan, US firms Amazon and Lucid and Italian luxury car maker Lamborghini.

ZeroLight Managing Director, Darren Jobling, said: “Nobody buying a new car ever actually sees their car until it arrives. There might be a model similar in the showroom or one that is the same colour, but then you select your seats, alloy wheels, interior lighting, spoilers and everything else that is a complete unknown until the car arrives.

“What ZeroLight does is allow the customer to see the car they are actually going to buy – not just the model and colour, the exact specifications they have selected, and then all of the marketing or aftersales material they receive will be their exact car too.

“Lamborghini offers more possible combinations of specification than there are grains of sand on a beach, but ZeroLight can deliver that, and because it is in the cloud, we can do it across multiple platforms, so that becomes sharable content.”

The company launched its world-leading 3D configurator in 2020, with all content rendered in the cloud and streamed directly to the user via their mobile phone, tablet, or computer like an interactive video, with no on-device rendering or plug-ins required.

Currently manufacturers or dealerships have versions of a configurator on websites, but the ZeroLight system takes that to new levels, offering “the world’s most advanced car-buying journey” – with the ability to not only design a car, but test out its functions online across digital platforms such as Amazon and Facebook, not just a static company site.

The Mitsubishi/Amazon project in the US follows a similar successful partnership between Zerolight and Facebook for Skoda, last year.

Darren added: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on all of industry but hit carmakers and retailers particularly hard. Prior to COVID, buyers visited a dealership an average of seven times before making a purchase, during the pandemic that has come down to 1.5 visits, so the industry knew it had to do things differently and learn how to do it quickly.

“ZeroLight took that interactive experience we have been using in the games industry for years and applied it to the car buying experience. It makes buying a car more personal and more enjoyable and with Volvo predicting that 100% of sales will be done online by 2030, it helps align the industry with the rapid change we have seen in shopping habits over the past year.”

ZeroLight has grown its workforce throughout the pandemic, recruiting 55 new people to its 145-strong workforce in Newcastle over the last year.

It has received support from the Department for International Trade, attending trade missions to China and Japan, as well as accessing funding to exhibit at trade shows in Europe.

Victoria Gemmill, of the DIT Northern Powerhouse Regional Team, said: “ZeroLight is an amazing company with a client roster of well-established global brands, all of which clearly recognise the value of its digital configurator to keep up with emerging retail trends.

“To be recognised the world over for your unique offer is something to be proud of and long may ZeroLight’s success continue.”

Gareth Beese, Export Strategy Development Lead for the North East, said: “ZeroLight must be congratulated for not only growing its global exports, but also its talented workforce during a worldwide pandemic.

“The configurator is clearly a vital tool for carmakers and retailers, who, like all industries, are learning how to operate in the post-COVID world quickly and successfully.”


Read more about ‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’.

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Osbit gets to grips with global export markets

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ is a new report published by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership – in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and North East England Chamber of Commerce – that outlines how the region can build its competitiveness, drive higher productivity, and create more and better jobs by increasing international trade.

To demonstrate how an increase in exporting in the North East can help build the region’s economy, below is a case study from offshore wind engineering company, Osbit, about its recent exporting success, which saw the company create an 800-tonne pile gripper system for the first large-scale wind farm in Taiwan.


In the post-COVID world, where everyone has a lockdown project, one North East company can lay claim to delivering the most impressive.

In 34 weeks, Osbit – which designs, develops and manufactures bespoke engineered systems – created an 800-tonne “pile gripper” system from scratch that is helping lay the foundations for a green power revolution in South East Asia.

The business, based at Riding Mill, Northumberland, is developing a global reputation for innovative engineering solutions, and is gaining plaudits for delivering such an ambitious project on deadline, during the global COVID-19 lockdown.

The pile gripper system is being used to install monopiles, the foundations that support offshore wind turbines, at an offshore wind farm in Taiwan, which is the first large-scale wind farm in the rapidly growing Taiwanese market.

Thanks to the 800-tonne gripper, the wind farm’s 80 monopile foundations are being successfully laid, each of which measure 100 metres in length and weigh in at almost 1,900 tonnes.

Osbit Joint Managing Director, Brendon Hayward, said: “To deliver this project spec, on budget and on time, was down to good planning and, without doubt, the skill and determination of our team who overcame a host of challenges, not least the restrictions the COVID pandemic placed on how they could safely operate.

“Most of the equipment Osbit makes is manufactured in the North East, but because of restricted travel and the cost of shipping materials to South East Asia, our project team instead set up in Singapore and over the course of 34 weeks delivered the pile gripper for installation on a vessel that is capable of handling the largest monopiles in the world.”

The Osbit pile gripper is used to maintain the vertical position of the monopile foundations as they are driven into the seabed.

The gripper is also environmentally considerate, incorporating a “Near Pile Noise Mitigation” system, minimising subsea noise and vibration during installation. The system dampens the energy emitted into the environment, further protecting marine life.

“Everything we do is about effective collaboration, so working with such a tight project team away from our headquarters presented its own challenges,” added Brendon, who co-created Osbit in 2010. “But everyone on the team performed incredibly, adhering to the strict safety guidelines we introduced to protect their wellbeing.

“Health and safety is paramount to us. We developed and implemented protocols to keep our employees safe and healthy and this was amplified for those working in Singapore. We also made sure that every member of the team had an open plane ticket, so they could quickly return home if circumstances changed or COVID protocols were altered.”

The gripper system was successfully completed and is being used by Sapura Energy to install monopiles in the Yunlin Offshore Wind Farm.

Osbit continues to make waves in global markets and the firm recently secured funding to expand its presence in the US, in the form of a business development consultancy contract. 

The Department for International Trade (DIT) is also working with Osbit on expanding its international work in offshore energy markets, utilising the company’s skill in equipment development and expertise in wind and energyinnovations.

Victoria Gemmill, of the DIT Northern Powerhouse Regional Team, said: “Osbit is a great case study of how to successfully operate in overseas markets. Undaunted by the restrictions placed upon this potential project by the most dangerous pandemic in living memory, the company developed sensible, safe procedures and protocols to overcome every obstacle placed in its path to deliver what is one of the most exciting and innovative offshore projects in the world.

“The gripper project is an incredible feat of engineering and skill and is literally laying the foundations for a cleaner, greener planet.”

Richard Baker, Strategy & Policy Director at North East LEP, said: “Osbit is a fantastic North East business, harnessing all of our traditional regional skill in engineering and adding that spark of creative inspiration to elevate it above others operating in its field.

“As the global economy shakes free of the shackles of COVID, I hope other businesses will be inspired by what Osbit achieved, against the odds, to deliver this important, pioneering project.”


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North East LEP publishes new regional trade and export report

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership, in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and North East England Chamber of Commerce, has published a new report outlining how the region can build its competitiveness, drive higher productivity, and create more and better jobs by increasing international trade.

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ sets out the region’s ambition to increase the percentage of North East businesses that export goods and services from 6% to 9.5% by 2030.

It also sets a target to increase the percentage of gross value added (GVA) from the export of good and services from 33% to 35% by 2030.

The new report, which is funded by DIT and published in collaboration with the North East England Chamber of Commerce, has been developed to align with government’s planned Trade and Export strategy, and the upcoming Northern Powerhouse Trade and Export strategy.

Lucy Winskell, Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The commitment to drive trade set out in the Strategic Economic Plan would create a stronger North East economy and deliver more and better jobs through export-led growth. We therefore want to support more businesses to seek out new opportunities in global markets.

“This report focuses on the areas of the world where we have the most opportunity and the actions we need to take to grow our economy.

“It shows that the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic and the UK’s exit from the European Union has had a severe impact on the region’s economy, so now is a good time to look to the future and make sure we support business to move forward with confidence.

“Whilst we are seeing positive signs of the economy beginning its recovery, we must take a long-term view on how we continue to strengthen the North East’s position and deliver on the targets set out in the North East Strategic Economic Plan.”

Approximately 4,500 businesses in the North East region (North East LEP and Tees Valley Combined Authority areas) currently export goods and services. In 2018, the North East exported £13 billion in goods and a further £7 billion in services. More than 168,000 jobs in the region are reliant on exporting.

The North East LEP’s report highlights businesses engaged in exporting tend to pay their employees 7% more than the national median wage. They are also 21% more productive compared to the UK average.

Richard Baker, Strategy and Policy Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The government has set out its intention to develop a trade and export strategy later this year and it will be crucial to the long term economic fortunes of the North East that it supports businesses in the region to grow their exporting.

“Businesses in the North East LEP area that currently export goods and services typically generate over £15bn of revenue from exporting each year. We want to see that figure increase, and we want to see more of the region’s businesses actively engaged in exporting, and our region reaching out across the world. 

“We worked with more than 50 exporters, trade groups and research institutions to develop this evidence about where opportunity lies, and the set of proposals to strengthen support in the region. It provides a clear direction of travel and starting point to create a stronger export culture and more coordinated set of support services in the North East.

“By increasing levels of international trade we will be supporting government’s levelling up agenda, and in turn creating more opportunities for businesses based in our region, and those looking to invest here.”

Julie Underwood​, Executive Director of International Trade at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Chamber is delighted to be involved in this important piece of work, which reinforces the vital role  exporting plays in our region and how we all need to work together to maximise the opportunities which are available for our businesses overseas.

“To successfully increase exports, we know that a clear strategy is needed which details which sectors and countries offer the most potential and a long term plan to implement this.

“The regional report provides an important step consolidating our collective response and input into how we can drive regional growth through international trade.”

Victoria Gemmill, DIT Northern Powerhouse Regional Team and Head of North East Region, said: “The strategy is a valuable piece of work aligning with our ambition at the Department of International Trade to drive economic growth through trade and investment opportunities and demonstrates the significance of export growth in levelling up.

“Through targeting sector and market specific opportunities as well as building export capabilities of local businesses, we can collectively enable the full advantage of trade opportunities to be utilised to deliver sustainable growth for the region.”

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ sets out five strategic priorities for the region, which include developing the export potential of the North East’s growing sector strengths in advanced manufacturing, offshore energy and subsea, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, digital, and knowledge intensive services; whilst focusing on a small number of opportunity markets.

It also sets out the ambition to create an ecosystem in the North East that brings together existing exporting support, providing a joined up and accessible approach for businesses.

‘Global North East: Driving growth in North East trade and exports’ is available to view here.

The Executive Summary is available to view here.

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Working towards an ambitious North East trade and export strategy

The North East England Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) and North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) are at the forefront of developing a Trade and Export Strategy for the region.

A funding boost from the Department for International Trade will enable us, and our partners, to ensure the voice of the North East is heard as the Government prepares its forthcoming Trade and Investment Strategy.

This presents an opportunity for us to help shape the future of UK trade and export to benefit our region and we are ready to take on the challenge.

Our goal is to prepare a strategy for the LEP area which identifies a future-focused approach for the region to drive more and better jobs, and strengthen productivity and competitiveness within the business base.

To help us achieve this, the Chamber is recruiting an Export Manager for the development of a North East Trade and Export Strategy.

The Export Manager will propose and detail a forward-facing strategy for growing North East trade and export activity in the region.

The plan will focus on increasing international trade with a strong emphasis on supporting earlier stage businesses and SMEs to plan for international growth.

The appointment comes at a time when there have been significant changes in the global economic environment, including COVID-19 and of course the changes to the trading and regulatory environment as a result of the EU Exit.

Trade and investment is a growing part of our economy. The value of goods exports per adult in the North East region is higher than across England excluding London. The value of service exports per adult increased by more than 60% between 2014 and 2017. In 2018/19, the North East region had more than one and a half times more new jobs created per person due to foreign direct investment projects than England excluding London.

In 2019, 59% of the North East region’s exports in goods (by value) were to the EU and 41% were to non-EU countries.

North East exports in goods to the EU increased in value by 10% between 2014 and 2019, from £7.1 billion to £7.9 billion, while North East exports in goods to non-EU countries remained unchanged in value between 2014 and 2019, at £5.4 billion.

Almost 90% of the value of goods exported from the North East region came from three commodities – machinery and transport (55%), chemicals (21%), pharmaceuticals (12%).

As part of the North East Local Industrial Strategy, our aim is to increase the percentage of firms engaged in exporting from 6% to 9.5% by 2030 as a means of raising exports to 35% of annual GVA – with a particular focus on diversification of the goods export profile.

Our Trade and Export plan will align with these goals, in turn informing the Government’s forthcoming Trade and Investment Strategy so together we can drive forward the North East’s economic growth ambitions.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director (North East LEP) and Julie Underwood, International Trade Director (North East England Chamber of Commerce).

Find out about the Export Manager role here.

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North East LEP and regional partners submit response to government’s consultation on UK Freeports

Paul Carbert, Economic Policy Co-ordinator at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, outlines the North East’s innovative response, which would drive economic growth in the region, create jobs and regenerate coastal communities.

As the UK prepares to complete its exit from the EU and establishes new trading relationships around the world, the UK government launched a consultation earlier this year on Freeports policy.

Freeports and free zones are in place in many parts of the world. They are areas within a country’s land border where different customs rules apply, and are being considered by government as part of its future strategy to strengthen trade relationships and secure inward investment. Freeports provide benefits for exporters and importers because goods can be imported into, manufactured, and exported from inside the zone without incurring tariffs and customs duties unless they enter the domestic market. They offer the potential to promote regeneration and job creation in those areas within the zone and drive growth in the wider economy.

The government’s consultation has sought views on how they should structure their approach to Freeports. It envisages that because of their likely location close to ports or in coastal areas, the strategy offers the opportunity to stimulate the economies of often deprived areas. They are also seeking proposals which position Freeports as hubs for innovation to test new ideas and technologies. The North East Local Enterprise Partnership, and an active list of partners comprising of the North East and North of Tyne Combined Authorities, Business Durham, the CBI, the North East England Chamber of Commerce, Port of Blyth, Port of Sunderland, Port of Tyne, Newcastle International Airport, University of Sunderland, Durham University, Newcastle University, and Northumbria University, submitted a response to the Government’s consultation earlier this month that outlines the region’s preferred approach to Freeports; one that focuses on new growth and jobs, the regeneration of key coastal areas and the development of other parts of the regional economy. It also reinforces the need for the UK’s existing labour market, security and environmental standards to be maintained.

After conducting research and gathering the views of local partners, the North East response has proposed that a multi-site, digitally enabled Free Trade Zone – linking key manufacturing sites in the North East with ports – would provide the greatest benefit for the North East. It would add value to our current economy, provide an opportunity to deploy and test a range of new digital approaches, and guard against the risk of local displacement of economic activity. It would complement a free trade deal with the European Union.

The innovative approach put forward for the North East takes into account the region’s industrial and logistics structure and would build on its wide-ranging assets. It would allow the region’s digital sector to develop innovation that would improve the operation and efficiency of Freeports, and provide an opportunity to stimulate job growth in key sectors such as advanced manufacturing, energy, digital, and transport, particularly at a time when the region’s economy will be continuing to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Whilst the region agrees Freeports are not a substitute for a comprehensive free trade deal with the EU – the preference in the North East is for both a deal and a Free Trade Zone – should the UK leave the transition period without a new trade deal, Freeports would mitigate some of the impact and provide opportunities to build on existing supply chains and clusters, and attract inward investment.

Following the submission of the region’s response to the Government’s consultation, the North East LEP and its partners will now work on preparing a collaborative bid to a government sponsored competition which is expected in the Autumn, to establish a North East Free Trade Zone.

To receive further updates about the North East LEP’s bid for a North East Free Trade Zone, please sign up to receive Insights North East, the newsletter from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.