Many years ago, I was in Kent with a friend visiting one of the great industrialists of the time. We were invited to lunch at the family’s lovely, understated cottage. On my way home I could conclude that our host owned one of the most brilliant looking Jaguars I have ever seen. I do not remember the model, but I remember the car’s lines and the shine of the green lacquer. If looking to apply the phrase ‘poetry in motion’, then this certainly did fit the bill for me. A couple of years later, I got the opportunity to have a Volvo V70 as my company car, and I was once again enthralled. I must admit that this time it was not so much about looks, but rather the cars brilliant functioning and the feeling of safety that it gave me when I was out driving on the snowy winter roads of Boston, where I was living at the time. To me, cars are not only things – they also have the potential to become an extension of the driver and maybe even an expression of the driver’s personality.
The car industry as we know it is experiencing great change. The industry has had a few tough years during the latest worldwide financial turmoil, but is also facing environmental and technological challenges. Companies making cars that are not only powered by traditional petrol or diesel engines are taking market share and will no doubt continue to do so. They are leading the way towards the new generation of transportation.
The UK has chosen to be an important player in the development of the automotive industry. When BIS (the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) launched its business strategy, outlining the future for UK production and trade, the automotive industry was one of the 11 sector strategies published. Named “Driving success – a strategy for growth and sustainability in the UK automotive sector” – this strategy is meant to provide a roadmap (excuse the pun) for the development of the industry and to clearly indicate governmental support for advanced manufacturing, engineering and, of course, the automotive sector in particular.
The strategy focuses on four different areas: innovation and technology; the supply chain; skills; and the business environment.
Regarding innovation and technology – government and industry will invest around £1 billion over 10 years in a new centre for advanced propulsion. Fuels, power sources and propulsion systems are of course an integral part of the whole driving experience, and are certainly key components for the vehicles of tomorrow. Work will also be done on strengthening the collaboration between industry and academia and to align research funding with the industrial challenges that lie ahead.
To further strengthen UK production, the government has set up an Automotive Investment Organisation (AIO) to assist investors develop the UK supply chain and make sure that the bits and pieces needed are developed in the market. This week, we will for example visit the Major Suppliers’ Day in Gothenburg, hosted by Fordonskomponentsgruppen (FKG), a trade association to the vehicle industry. We will hold a seminar and a speech for investors in the UK on all of the business opportunities in the sector that we can see. According to FKG, Swedish exports from this particular industry are worth SEK 180 billion (approximately £18 billion) per year, which would amount to 12% of Sweden’s total annual exports. In this case (as in many other cases), the UK is a perfect match for Sweden when it comes to collaboration, investment and R&D partnership.
The strategy also addresses the need for skills by promoting a large scheme for apprentices and graduates in the industry. Finally, to promote the business environment, collaborative measures are being taken – like safeguarding the UK’s flexible labour markets, as well as supporting free trade agreements and proactive engagement in EU politics.
In a nutshell – these are exciting times.
British Racing Green – not only my favourite colour for my favourite car, but also the international motor racing colour of the United Kingdom – is not going away. Indeed, I would suggest that the opposite is the case. British Racing Green, and the automotive industry that it in at least some way represents, will stay in fashion and be part of a strong advanced manufacturing future in the UK. And maybe, if I wish really hard, I will get to test drive that Jaguar one day… just maybe.