Ian Gray's blog 9th Feb

Last week was dominated by two things for me: the winter weather, and my interactions with the manufacturing sector - and in particular the automotive sector's approach to low carbon vehicle technology. Whether the two things are linked in any direct way is best left to another debate, but they do have two things in common - the need to address immediate conditions, and the longer term approach to investment in technologies to meet future environmental challenges.

I will focus on low carbon vehicles rather than the weather. My week included meetings and conversations with key figures in the automotive sector about our national low carbon vehicle technology strategy and the links to our current competitions www.innovateuk.org. The response to our low carbon vehicle demonstrator programme competition, announced in December, has been outstanding. We have had 21 responses amounting to over £40m of grant application, from consortia representing all the different players - from niche vehicle manufacturers through to the major companies, as well as energy suppliers, local authorities , academic partners and the supply chain. We are currently going through the assessment process but aim to have made decisions by the end of March. Our objective: 100 low carbon vehicles on our streets by quarter four this year, in a joined-up and coordinated demonstrator programme. I believe, however, that with the resolve of central Government and the engagement of the RDAs - invited by Lord Mandelson in his speech on automotive sector support packages - we could put in place a considerably greater, world leading programme by the end of this year - demonstrating world-beating UK low carbon vehicle technology which could help position a new and vibrant automotive sector here in the UK when we come out of the other side of the recession.

I really only became aware how strong UK capability is in this area last year, at the first UK National Low Carbon Vehicle Event. This was jointly hosted by Cenex and the Technology Strategy Board at Millbrook in Bedfordshire last October. There were over 100 exhibitors at the proving ground, displaying vehicles of all shapes and sizes as well as some of the fantastic underpinning technologies being developed here in the UK - some of it with the major players, some hidden away in the supply chain and some still to emerge from our universities.

Since then through our competitions and through visits and discussions I have become more familiar and even more excited by the potential for the UK to take a strong position. Far from the automotive sector being a sunset industry here in the UK, we have companies and ideas that could lead our automotive sector into a new low carbon high technology industry.

It is not possible to name check all those involved but there are many - from newly-formed companies like Axon producing lightweight carbon vehicles through to established engineering firms such as Lotus Engineering, working at the very forefront of green technology . We have automotive companies steeped in technology development like Ricardo  who are now leading new vehicle and engine integration technologies to meet the green challenges and help put together technology roadmaps which will help direct future investment focus. I have spoken before of Zytek who produce products from electric vehicle drivetrains for the SMART EV and Modec's 8.5t commercial vehicles through to high performance racing car systems. This is a UK based company with worldwide recognition for low carbon vehicle technology. We have fuel cell companies like Intelligent Energy developing technologies that will power the zero emission taxis being developed for the London 2012 Games. I have mentioned before the kinetic energy recovery braking systems of Flybrid and Williams Hybrid Power. This week I had the privilege of being a keynote speaker alongside Patrick Head of Williams at a UKTI Advanced Engineering Event organised in Oxford . He espouses the UK's terrific engineering talent in motorsport and its links into technology which can advance our green vehicle capability - lightweight structures, aerodynamics, drivetrains and so on. We also have world leading semiconductor designers- companies such as Imagination Technologies who are now applying the creativity that has created the world's leading digital radio company to the cars of the future.

Many companies have invested hugely in the UK, such as Ford whose new UK-built diesel products are contributing significantly to emission reductions while improving performance. The list goes on - and yet much of the rhetoric around could lead you to believe that the UK has no automotive sector worth investing in for the future.

The Technology Strategy Board supported last week's CBI Manufacturing Dinner in Birmingham, where the speeches by Lord Mandelson, Andy Reynolds-Smith, Richard Lambert and David Smith (see the CBI website)  made a consistent rallying call for all to get together to support manufacturing in the UK in this new and balanced economy. I thought David Smith's speech was excellent, well delivered and well positioned in balancing today's issues with the need for strong commitment to long term investment in technology. Most of all , especially in today's difficult circumstances, I found them all hugely motivational - inspiring me to seek whatever ways I can for the Technology Strategy Board to grab the opportunity to create this industry of the future.

Investment in low carbon vehicle technologies will be a priority for us through 2009. I will keep you posted on developments.

 

Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:37

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