The Cenex LCV event includes a two-day conference programme in the main hall, plus two additional programmes of more specialist seminars. So there’s a huge amount of knowledge being transferred. You won’t have time to read about all the presentations, so here’s a user-friendly summary of the key content.
Michael Fallon MP, the new minister of state for business and enterprise, was on his first day in his new job at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), following David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle, yet you wouldn’t have known this, as he delivered a professional presentation, and crucially one that was reassuring for the low carbon vehicle industry audience.
The minister said that low emissions vehicles are here to stay, and they are good for consumers and good for UK businesses. He provided reassurance that the government values the automotive sector and will continue to actively support the development and use of low emission vehicles. He claimed that there were now 6300 electric vehicle recharging points in the UK and reminded the audience that around 20 new plug-in vehicles would be launched by the end of 2013. In terms of the automotive manufacturing sector in the UK as a whole, exports are at an all-time high in cash terms, and the value of exports recently exceeded the value of imports over a 12 month period for the first time since 1975. He concluded by saying that the automotive sector is seen by the government as having strategic national importance and he gave hope that there would be continued consistency in government policy.
Professor Dame Julia King DBE, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, produced the King Report in October 2007 and in 2008, placing a challenge for the automotive sector to reduce emissions – so what has happened, five years on?
Five years is actually not a long time in manufacturing industry with high value products and long development times. And the King Report was set against a timeline of over 40 years into the future – based around the UK government’s stated need to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050.
Recommendations in the King Report about ways to reduce vehicle emissions were acted upon in the UK government’s 2008 Budget. However ultimately long-term direction is needed at national, European and international levels.
Although back in 2008 the targets for vehicle emission reductions seemed ambitious, we’re now on track to exceed the targets. The 130g/km average fleet CO2 target for 2012 was controversial, and even more so with the 100g/km target for 2020, yet most manufacturers are close to the 2012 target, with some beating it, and the EU has recently confirmed a 95g/km target for 2020. In the UK measures in the Budget such as revised Vehicle Excise Duty bands played a part, along with company car tax rates.
One of the recommendations in the King Report was to move away from biofuels, due to concerns about their sustainability, and this certainly happened. At the same time there was a major growth in funding for the Technology Strategy Board, and since then this organisation has played a key role in the development of ultra-low carbon vehicles.
The Automotive Council was also formed and this has been seen as a huge success, to the extent that it is being taken as best practice for other industry sectors. The Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) is another organisation that has been established with the responsibility for taking forward a national policy on ultra-low emission vehicles.
Julia said that the recession has driven consumers to buy (affordable) low carbon cars and now green cars are the “new normal” – but more work is needed on behavioural issues and consumer information.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would Julia have done differently in 2007? She said she would have set lower targets.
Richard Bruce, OLEV’s director, started off by saying that OLEV is unusual in government as it combines activity in different government departments – with the aim of achieving ‘joined up thinking’.
OLEV’s focus is on ultra-low emission vehicles, as the motor industry is doing a good job of making internal combustion-engined cars more efficient, but 50g/km CO2 is seen to be the limit for such powertrains. Therefore OLEV’s focus is on vehicles with less than 75g/km CO2, and it’s involved in initiatives such as the Plug-in Car Grant, the Plugged in Places recharging infrastructure programme, R & D, and fiscal measures.
Richard pointed out that the Toyota Prius hybrid had a slow start to its sales but that it has now become the best-selling car in the world. This trend has been reflected with the Plug-in Car Grant – less than 1100 cars were bought with the grant throughout all of 2011, however 430 plug-in cars were bought in just the three-month period from April to June 2012, showing a significant increase in sales. The sales of electric vehicles should increase further as more aspirational EVs come to market.
– the view from Ford and Jaguar Land Rover
The main message from Ford’s Andrew Fraser was that the company’s focus is still very much on increasing the efficiency of conventional powertrains in order to reduce emissions. Ford’s approach is based around three areas: economy, performance, and affordability. Andrew said that 67% of recent Ford Focus sales have been of models with emissions below 115g/km CO2. Another Ford speaker later on in the day, John Stanger, said “uncertainties are real about EVs.”
Pete Richings from Jaguar Land Rover said that the company is currently enjoying excellent sales success, with 80% of UK production being exported, and sales up 43% in Russia and up 76% in China. However stable emissions regulations in global markets are essential to allow car makers to invest in the development of new products. As an example, China wants to be a leader in ‘new energy vehicles’ – as it is worried about energy security – and so it does have regulations, but it is a volatile market as the regulations are liable to change very quickly.
Pete had a similar message to that of Ford. Although JLR is investing significantly in hybrid and electric technology, conventional powertrains are still the mainstay of the business. Ways are being found to make JLR vehicles more efficient – for example the new Range Rover is 460kg lighter than the previous model. Interestingly, Pete expressed concerns about the technical challenges of batteries including in the areas of their life and cost, and said that electric vehicle technology may become part of automotive industry history if battery performance doesn’t improve as fast as the efficiency of conventional powertrains is progressing.
The speakers for this session were Iain Grey from the Technology Strategy Board, Jerry Hardcastle representing the Automotive Council and Nissan, Tony Harper from Jaguar Land Rover, and Paul Everitt from the SMMT.
Iain Grey from the Technology Strategy Board reminded the audience that the TSB was there to help stimulate business-led innovation, and collaborative research has been a key way that this has been achieved. Jerry Hardcastle agreed that the automotive industry is normally very insular and that collaboration has been highly effective, with Nissan being introduced to 24 new suppliers through the REEVolution project.
Jerry also talked about the work of the Automotive Council, which included the production of the Technology Roadmap for Passenger Cars, which provides a guide for the powertrains that we’re likely to see in cars between now and 2050. The Commercial Vehicle and Off-Road Technology Roadmap was also produced, and the motorsport industry has now produced its own Roadmap. The Automotive Council has also produced the Automotive Technology and Manufacturing Readiness Levels Guide.
Tony Harper from Jaguar Land Rover focused on the relationship between universities and the auto industry and suggested that the spend on activities at universities could be more strategically aligned to the needs of the auto industry. He talked about the ‘valley of death’ between work carried out at universities and subsequent research to take ideas forward, and highlighted that we can’t deliver automotive low carbon projects without engineers, and we’re currently not producing enough engineers to replace the amount of people retiring.
Paul Everitt from the SMMT highlighted the current success of the UK automotive industry. There has recently been £6bn of new investment and in 2015 we may be on course to see more cars made in the UK than ever before. Others around the world are trying to catch up with the UK; we still need to step up our package around low carbon.
Green Car Guide was invited to a roundtable discussion hosted by the Technology Strategy Board – the UK’s innovation agency – focusing on the opportunities that lie ahead for small and medium-sized British companies in the automotive sector.
The session was chaired by Professor Neville Jackson, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of Ricardo UK. Also taking part were:
• Jon Beasley (Group Technology Officer, GKN)
• Andrew Everett (Head of Transport, Technology Strategy Board)
• Nick Carpenter (Technical Director, Delta Motorsport Limited)
• Jerry Hardcastle (Global Chief Marketability Engineer, Nissan)
Topics discussed included:
• The scale of the growth potential for small and medium UK suppliers
• The importance of low-carbon technologies to the future of the automotive sector
• How collaborative research can expand our high-technology supply chain
• The role of the Technology Strategy Board in fostering supply-chain innovation
The overall consensus was that the opportunities from low carbon are huge. Design and innovation are core competencies of the UK, and we should focus on these areas, even if some products end up being manufactured in emerging markets. The Technology Strategy Board has played a key role in helping to ensure that low carbon research and development has happened in the UK, and everyone agreed that the collaboration instigated by the projects was highly beneficial. The Technology Strategy Board projects have been seen to reduce the risk to major manufacturers of trialling new ideas and partners.
With vehicles such as a Jaguar XJ, Lotus Evora and Infiniti EMERG-E on display, low carbon cars on show at LCV have progressed forward in terms of desirability once again this year.
A few years ago all the talk in the industry was about pure electric cars. The industry, along with the industry PR people, seem to have had a reality check since then, and at LCV2012 there seemed to be more focus on ways of making the good old internal combustion engine more efficient – such as by using affordable mild-hybrid technology and other approaches such as lightweighting.
The event confirmed once again the answer to the ongoing question “What will be the green car technology of the future?” as there won’t be one solution, it will be a mix, including the internal combustion engine, and pure electric vehicles for areas such as ‘mega-cities’ – and various combinations of both technologies.
The one theme that always comes up in such conferences, and which came up again at LCV2012, was communication. The automotive industry needs to get better at communicating the latest green car technology to consumers – and Green Car Guide would be pleased to assist car manufacturers or industry bodies to achieve this, converting ‘industry-speak’ to engaging messages that the car buying public can understand.