Future of the UK automobile industry?

I am rarely this timely with my blog posts but was alerted to this announcement by my colleague Andrew Graves:

The government and automotive industry are investing £500 million each over the next ten years in an Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) to research, develop and commercialise the technologies for the vehicles of the future.

via Billion pound commitment to power UK auto sector to the future – Press releases – Inside Government – GOV.UK.

The announcement goes on to say that the report focuses on 4 key themes: technology; supply chain; skills development and UK competitiveness. All of which sounds worthy but (perhaps inevitably) vague at this top level.

Reading the report itself one can identify some  concrete actions. For example, the EPSRC (UK funding body) is setting up an advisory group to help align research activity with industry needs (a continuing theme of ‘impact’). UKTI (Trade & Industry) is providing investment, access to finance and a development programme to encourage more supply chain activity (at the moment, 2/3 of vehicle parts are sourced from outside the UK). Apprenticeships and degree scholarships are being promoted. And the industry is engaging with the local enterprise partnerships (LEPS) in the UK, and also with the EU.

The headline figure of course is the £1Bn investment (50% government) in an Advanced Propulsion Centre looking at new ‘propulsion technologies’ (the report is – perhaps admirably – non committal about what these technologies might be).

In fact according to the report (p10)

The Government will publish a detailed strategy on ultra-low emission vehicles later this year

This is perhaps wise as we appear to be in the early phase of technology innovation as far as low carbon vehicles are concerned (did you notice the subtle difference in phrasing? *). It put me in mind of a recent article in the economist which sourced this rather illuminating graph from the IEA

The great powertrain race

So, the future is uncertain, but the future is also – interesting. And it will, of course, rely on innovation.

* low emission vehicles are not necessarily low carbon vehicles, you need to take a lifecycle view.  (Although do be careful about claims that electric cars are ‘less’ green, these are usually overblown).  And of course low carbon (or to be more accurate, low GHG) vehicles are not necessarily the most environmentally friendly. But that’s another topic.

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