AN invitation asking one of the world’s richest men to take over the soon-to-be-vacant Honda site is no gimmick.
Top councillors in Swindon say they are serious about the approach made to billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk about the possibility of turning the South Marston site into a Tesla factory.
Mr Musk has a net worth of around £120bn and his company has become the most valuable car maker in the world as demand for electric vehicles soars.
Honda will leave the town in July, having dropped the bombshell nearly two years ago. Around 3,500 staff could be left out of work and Swindon Borough Council are still looking to fill the void left on the 380-acre site.
In a tweet to Mr Musk on Wednesday night councillor Dale Heenan gave a nod to the town’s railway heritage – including a GIF of the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films as proof of what the Swindon can achieve.
It read: “Swindon, UK would like to invite @elonmusk to consider the home of the steam engine trains for future @Tesla factories using the massive Honda site that closes mid-2021. GWR 5972 Olton Hall, Hogwarts Express was built in our town. #thefuturetoday.”
He went on to show a copy of the letter sent by council leader David Renard to Mr Musk, 49, at Tesla’s HQ in Palo Alto, California.
Coun Renard said the approach was not just a publicity stunt, though he acknowledged it was speculative.
He said: “We are ambitious for the town and with a number of exciting developments that will help rejuvenate the centre, Swindon will bounce back from Covid-19 in 2021.
“We want Elon and all companies, large and small, to consider Swindon for expanding, relocating to, or starting up in.
“Swindon has a lot going for it. We are less than one hour’s drive and train journey from Heathrow, Central London, Reading, Oxford, Newbury, Basingstoke, Bristol and Bath.
“Office costs are a third to a half the price in those places. Our house prices are more than £100,000 cheaper and we have a skilled workforce most of whom can access ultra-fast broadband. Swindon is open for business.
“As the saying goes, if you don’t ask, then you don’t get.”
Coun Renard’s letter to Mr Musk says the council is aware Tesla may be looking for a base in Britain and wanted to draw the SpaceX CEO’s attention to the Honda site.
It adds the biggest selling point is “perhaps the 5,000-strong workforce from the Honda-owned companies and suppliers, which I’m reliably informed are extremely productive. In fact, they contribute to a statistic of which I am immensely proud – Swindon has the third highest GDP per job in the UK.”
Labour group leader Jim Grant said he applauded the approach to Mr Musk, but with one reservation.
He said: “This is the sort of thing the council should be doing – any approach or idea to get someone to take on the Honda site and bring jobs to Swindon should be explored and every opportunity taken.
“I am concerned, however, that this has more to do with publicising the Tory council itself rather a serious approach to Tesla. Honda itself is keen on privacy and I suspect Elon Musk and Tesla probably prefer to do such negotiations out of the public eye.
“I hope that Coun Heenan’s tweet of the letter doesn’t jeopardise any benefit the letter, if kept confidential for a while longer, might have had.”
The story was read thousands of times on the Adver website yesterday, with a mixed response from those who commended.
Muni Muddhar said: “Why not? It’s a car manufacturing site, lots of on-site parking, close to major road network, would be great for the town and the UK economy.
A reader using the name ‘OldTownTom’ said: “I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hopes up but won’t be holding my breath.”
But Saman Saman thought Mr Musk should be kept away from some of the town’s landmarks, saying: ”If he comes through the Moonrakers roadworks, he will change his mind.”