With a new car rolling off the production line every 20 seconds and an export market that’s worth nearly £35 billion, there can be no denying that UK automotive in 2016 is in a strong position. But that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels when it comes to research and development (R&D) if we are to continue to capture future market share.
Our prowess in advanced automotive engineering really matters. It matters for the industry, it matters for jobs and it matters for the wider economy too. According to latest figures, provided by The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, over the last year 1.5 million cars and nearly 2.5 million engines were built through UK automotive - an industry which employed 800,000 and turned over close to £70 billion.
This all puts the UK in an enviable position moving forward but it also the reason why, when it comes to future automotive R&D, we really can’t afford to be left behind. In response to stricter environmental standards coming in at home and abroad, around the world propulsion technologies are advancing apace. Ten years from now how the automotive industry looks, and who its leaders are, are likely to be very different.
Against this changing backdrop, how the UK retains its competitiveness and ensures jobs are not lost overseas comes down to whether we can be agile and adaptable in terms of delivering high-value R&D.
By simply relying on our existing facilities we won’t keep pace with the needs of industry who will, in increasing numbers, spend their R&D expenditure overseas. Our SMEs, where so many of our recent engineering advances have sprung from, will not have the space to test and progress the kind of ideas that could reshape future engineering and design.
Without investment we’ll increasingly face challenges in terms of skills shortage too. Already, the Automotive Council says that 5,000 jobs could remain unfilled due to lack of skills. Our own Local Enterprise Partnership – the West of England LEP – has highlighted similar skills shortages in high tech, low carbon and advanced engineering.
This is why we believe our proposal for a new Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS) is so crucial and why investment in this area can yield important future returns if the UK is to remain a leader for automotive. Through IAAPS, we can create a space where the world’s best engineers can work hand-in-hand with industry and SMEs to tackle these emerging challenges in an environment where we also can nurture the next generation of advanced automotive engineers.
Underpinned by the years of experience in automotive propulsion research here at the University of Bath, IAAPS can be a success story for the regional and national economy and can ensure the UK remains a leader in automotive in the years ahead.
Steve Egan CBE is Vice-President (Implementation) at the University of Bath and the key contact for the University’s plans to develop IAAPS at the Bristol & Bath Science Park.