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Catalonia, in the spotlight of the motor industry

This last weekend Catalonia’s F1 Grand Prix and the Barcelona’s International Automobile Fair were held. These two events emphasise the weight the motoring industry has in Catalonia. Actually, Barcelona Metropolitan Area is one of Europe’s largest motoring industry hubs.


23 May 2011 05:24 PM


ACN / Albert Lladó

Barcelona (ACN).- This weekend Barcelona has hosted Catalonia\u2019s F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelò, some 20km from the Catalan capital. The race coincided with Barcelona\u2019s International Automobile Fair, held from the 14th to the 22nd of this month and where no less than 37 international brands have shown off their new models during this 36th edition of the fair. These two events have put Catalonia in the limelight of the world\u2019s motoring industry but the importance of this sector for the country goes beyond this past week. Catalonia is host to a number of international companies with factories throughout the country, as well as being a centre of production for its own brands, especially in motorcycling.

From the 20th to the 22nd of May Greater Barcelona played host to Catalonia\u2019s F1 Grand Prix. The race, held at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmeló, has a great reputation among the Championship races because of its attractive design and modern facilities. The Catalan circuit is always one of those preferred tracks by the F1 teams for carrying out preseason tests. The race is now an established date on the F1 calendar having held 21 consecutive editions of the Championship, and is one of the few tracks that plays host to both F1 and the Motorcycling  World Championships.   

This year\u2019s Catalonia Grand Prix has been won by Red Bull Racing Team\u2019s driver Sebastian Vettel, followed by Mc Laren\u2019s Lewis Hamilton. For this year\u2019s race, the Circuit de Catalunya built a new emergency medical centre, improved on the tarmac and the design, and added 200m² more of parking, a smart decision given the huge crowds the event attracts all weekend. 

The fact that the dates coincide between the F1 Grand Prix and the Barcelona International Automobile Fair also contributed to boosting attendance figures. The \u2018Saló de l\u2019Automòbil de Barcelona\u2019 hosted 37 different companies which showed off their new models, and the trade fair fitted out an area dedicated to the electric car and sustainable mobility for the first time. For 10 days, the combination of both events taking place in Barcelona has shot Catalonia on to centre stage of the world\u2019s motoring industry. However, the long tradition and key importance of this sector goes way beyond a bright sporadic week.

Industrial Hub

Catalonia plays host to a number of important automobile companies. Local car manufacturer SEAT is the most important one because of its 60 years\u2019 relationship with Barcelona ever since it was created. The company, currently sales leader in Spain, is part of the Volkswagen Group and has a 13-building production plant in Martorell, in the Barcelona\u2019s Metropolitan Area, and over 7,000 workers. The factory was recently in the news because the new Audi Q3, the new crossover from the German brand will be assembled in Martorell, a decision which should generate 700 extra jobs.  

Nissan has an importance presence in Catalonia, ever since the Japanese company decided to set up shop in Barcelona in 1980 by purchasing a stake in a local firm of trucks and vans known as Motor Ibérica. Nissan chose the Catalan capital because of its exceptional location, with access to Europe by sea and land, as well as the Motor Ibérica engineers\u2019 versatility. Another reason was that Nissan wanted to assemble different models at the Catalonia plant, located in an industrial neighborhood of Barcelona close to the harbor and the airport known as \u2018Zona Franca\u2019.  

Nissan plant builds four models in exclusivity for the European market, two vans and two 4x4. Last year, more than 90.000 vehicles were assembled at the Zona Franca factory, beaten only by Nissan\u2019s UK factory. Recently, after months of hard negotiations between plant workers and Japanese headquarters, they have come to an agreement for constructing the firm\u2019s new van in Barcelona, but at the cost of some concessions regarding working conditions.       

In addition to the huge show of confidence made by foreign automobile companies in Catalonia over recent years, the country has an important industry of its own. Such is the case of Catalan components\u2019 assembler Ficosa. The company leads the rear-view mirror market with a share of around 30% in Europe and the United States, it has headquarters in 19 countries and supplies components to important technologic companies like Hewlett Packard.

Motorcycling tradition

One of the biggest centres of the motoring industry in Catalonia has been the construction of competitive motorcycles. Catalan company Montesa, nowadays property of Honda, has won the trial motorcycle world championship nine times over the last 11 years, the last four of which thanks to Catalan pilot Toni Bou while the last six female world championships have been won by Catalan rider Laia Sanz. This is a huge tradition in Catalonia and the proof can be found in the number of titles: it is the country with more World Championships by riders (27), followed by the UK, as well as by constructors.

Another historical Catalan motorcycle brand is Derbi, but in contrast to Montesa, Derbi has limited its production to small engine motorbikes such as 50, 80 or 125cc. The company has won 11 World Championships, the last one being the title in the 125cc class in 2010, when the motorbike was driven by the Catalan young rider Marc Márquez. Derbi is part of the Italian brand Piaggio since 2001. The Catalan firm appeared in the media recently because its owner Piaggio wants to move the Derbi plant from Santa Perpètua de Mogoda, 20km north of Barcelona, to Italy, a decision which led to demonstrations by the factory workers. 

Although a definitive decision has not yet been made, the decision as whether or not to give Nissan\u2019s new van construction to the Catalonia plant along with the economic world crisis, has generated some doubts about the country\u2019s motoring industry. But the news that the Chinese BMW\u2019s partner Brilliance is about to install a plant to assemble its cars in Barcelona has helped to reaffirm Catalonia and Barcelona\u2019s position as the biggest motor hub in Spain, and one of the biggest in Europe.


  • A family photo of the Hispania Racing Team with the Catalan President Artur Mas in Catalonia's F1 circuit (by R. Moreno)

  • A family photo of the Hispania Racing Team with the Catalan President Artur Mas in Catalonia's F1 circuit (by R. Moreno)