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Niche Vehicle Network Symposium 2013

2013 Niche Vehicle Network Symposium

Car dashboards being replaced by iPads and a new UK Advanced Propulsion Centre were two of the ideas highlighted at the 2013 Niche Vehicle Network Symposium which took place on 19 March at the Heritage Centre at Gaydon.

The Niche Vehicle Network is an independent association of over 100 niche vehicle manufacturers, specialist technology and supply chain companies. The Niche Vehicle R&D Programme provides support and grant funding to groups of companies active in the niche vehicle sector. It promotes the development and application of new technology to take advantage of the increasing market opportunities for lower carbon vehicles.

Quotes from the event:

“Because of the need to dramatically lower vehicle emissions over the coming years, we WILL need more hybrid and electric powertrains… Because of R&D timescales, the opportunity to develop the supply chain for the next generation of powertrains is NOW.”

Jerry Hardcastle, UK Automotive Council

“Emissions are driving everything.”

Andrew Haggie, Jaguar Land Rover

“The numbers of electric vehicles are only going to go one way – up.”

Neil Cheeseman, Zytek Automotive

Session 1: Stimulating Growth through Innovation

Chaired by David Keene, Chairman of the NVN Executive

Innovation in the UK Niche Sector – David Keene (NVN)

The event was opened by David Keene, Chairman of the Niche Vehicle Executive, who stressed that the UK’s 100 or so specialist vehicle manufacturers are developing many innovative ideas, and that innovation is a vital stimulus to economic growth.

Such vehicle manufacturers have traditionally worked in isolation, however the Technology Strategy Board, the ‘UK’s innovation agency’, has been a major force in encouraging collaboration, particularly through its low carbon vehicle innovation platform.


Jerry Hardcastle (UK Automotive Council)

‘Sticky Technologies’ – Jerry Hardcastle (UK Automotive Council)

Jerry highlighted the current successful growth of the UK automotive industry . The Automotive Council, focused on encouraging investment in the UK, has helped the UK car industry to speak with one voice, and the passenger car technology road map developed by the Automotive Council has informed investment decisions.

Key programmes are now aligned with the roadmap, but if there’s one area to improve, it’s to ensure that, at a time when there is a particular focus on strengthening the UK supply chain, suppliers benefit from the current investment.

Because of the need to dramatically lower vehicle emissions over the coming years , we WILL need more hybrid and electric powertrains, but the OEM’s resources are too stretched to allow them enough time to develop new engineering solutions. So there is a significant opportunity for disruptive new low carbon technology – particularly for UK suppliers to develop this, possibly in conjunction with academic institutions, and for it to be adopted by OEMs in the UK. Because of R&D timescales, the opportunity to develop the supply chain for the next generation of powertrains is NOW, however all too often such innovative ideas end up in the ‘valley of death’ rather than being commercially adopted.

So is there a way to help universities and SMEs collaborate on low carbon technical developments that will enable the UK to seize global competitive advantage as traditional powertrains are displaced? Jerry thinks there is. He proposed the idea of an Advanced Propulsion Centre which would be a collaborative hothouse of academia and innovative companies working together on low carbon transport solutions. Jerry stressed that the Advanced Propulsion Centre is just a concept at this stage, but there is a limited window of opportunity to make it happen. Jerry, be warned that Green Car Guide will be following this story closely

Tim O’Brien (Technology Strategy Board) Low Carbon Vehicle Innovation Platform – Tim O’Brien (Technology Strategy Board)

Tim O’Brien explained that the TSB Low Carbon Innovation Platform had three goals:

• Supporting the UK automotive sector in terms of growth

• Accelerating the introduction of low carbon vehicles

• Reducing transport emissions (so meeting legislative requirements)

A total of £350 million has been invested during five years of collaborative low carbon vehicle projects, with areas such as vehicle efficiency and lightweighting being significant areas of focus.

Chris Aylett (MIA) at 2013 Niche Vehicle Network Symposium Motorsport – A Powerful Force for Innovation – Chris Aylett (MIA)

Chris Aylett reminded the audience that energy efficiency is crucial in motorsport – races are won by people who are most efficient. Motorsport engineering companies have to be experts in the efficient use of energy , they have to be innovative, and they have to deliver fast solutions – in other words they may be ideal to help solve the problems of OEMs who need assistance with increasing efficiency.

This existing pool of expertise could be ideal at a time when the UK needs more UK suppliers at certain technology readiness levels. However motorsport engineering companies are not known to OEMs and so Chris offered to facilitate a ‘Meet the Buyer’ event for OEMs and motorsport companies.

Read our review of the
2013 Motorsport Industry Association Cleaner Racing Conference

Session 2: Lightweight Vehicle Structures & Materials

Chaired by Nick Carpenter, Technical Director of Delta Motorsport

The Lightest Structural Metal in Automotive – Martyn Alderman (Magnesium Elektron)

Martyn Alderman promoted the benefits of magnesium alloys. Magnesium offers considerable weight savings, yet it’s 18 times stiffer than steel. Magnesium is currently used in the auto industry, including in applications such as BMW’s six-cylinder petrol engine block, and issues such as joining and corrosion are being addressed.

Composite Materials in the Automotive Industry – Chris Taylor (FAR-UK)

Chris highlighted that cars have to get lighter and that it’s actually easy to reduce weight through using materials such as carbon fibre – there are plenty of examples in aerospace and motorsport – but this comes at a cost, and it’s easier to absorb such costs when selling supercars rather than volume cars.

Aluminium – Lightweight Material of the Future – Andrew Haggie (Jaguar Land Rover)

Andrew said that emissions are driving everything, and all manufacturers are looking at alternative powertrains, in line with the Automotive Council roadmap. Despite the overall increasing focus on low carbon cars, globally there is an increasing demand from customers for big cars that go anywhere. Hence the new Range Rover, the world’s first all-aluminium SUV, which is 39%, or 180Kg, lighter than the steel equivalent. JLR challenged its suppliers with the new Range Rover, and the company is looking at opportunities with composites, however such materials are expensive. Aluminium is very energy intensive to manufacture – a big issue at a time when full lifecycle carbon footprinting is becoming more important – but the company is looking to incorporate more recycled material into aluminium.

Titanium – From Exotic to Niche – Phil Squance (Caged Laser Engineering)

Phil Squance explained the benefits of titanium – it’s strong, light, and has a high fatigue limit, but it’s also very difficult to work with. The company set itself a challenge to make the chassis for an Ariel Atom out of titanium. This proved to be extremely difficult, but it found a way to achieve it, and the result was on show at the event.

Session 3: Low Carbon Vehicle Technologies

Chaired by Jon Horsley, Lead Technologist, Technology Strategy Board

Advances in Electric Vehicle Technologies – Neil Cheeseman (Zytek Automotive)

Neil talked about advances in electric vehicle technologies and said that due to legislation the numbers of electric vehicles are only going to go one way – up. Although sales in the UK have been relatively slow so far, lots of electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles have been sold worldwide. The performance of electric vehicles isn’t an issue – recently an electric Audi R8 e-tron set a record around the Nurburgring for a production vehicle with an electric powertrain – only 4 seconds slower than its petrol-engined equivalent. At the other end of the scale, the electric Gordon Murray Design T27 has one of the most efficient drive systems of any vehicle. Neil believed that in the 1980s technology in motorsport accelerated the uptake of similar advances in road cars, but that came to an end. Today, this may be happening again, at the same time as cost reduction is becoming more of a priority.

The Future of the Electric Motorcycle – Lawrence Marazzi (Agility Global)

Lawrence looked at personal transportation and saw a future that involved increased enjoyment and improved capability. He believes that enhanced enjoyment is increasingly important because many consumers don’t see any difference in capabilities between different vehicles. He predicts that styling will have to connect, inspire and evoke a strong emotional response, and that engineering will have to create experiences, leading to a future with increased emotional connection between people and vehicles.

 iPad Vehicle Electronic Control
EV Blue – iPad Vehicle Electronic Control – Paul Faithfull (Potenza Technology)

A presentation that could lead to a real change in the auto industry was about EV Blue, an iPad Vehicle Electronic Control
. The idea is that the dashboard of your car will be replaced by an iPad, which will feature all of the vehicle’s main controls. It will also mean that the car will have no wiring, one of the most complex systems on a modern vehicle.

This will be achieved by using ‘ZigBee’ wireless communications technology, which is used in buildings. The system is fast, and also lightweight – it saves 34% compared to a 10Kg wiring loom, and some looms – such as on the new Range Rover – are considerably heavier, weighing in at around 70-80Kg. The project is also developing its own vehicle, based on the all-electric iRacer, which will showcase the EV Blue technology.

Session 4: Building Successful and Iconic Brands

Chaired by John Wood, ex Managing Director, MIRA

Bluebird Electric – Martin Rees (Bluebird Electric)

Martin from Bluebird Electric talked about ambitious plans to use the land speed record-breaking Bluebird heritage to develop an electric sports car and a track day car, as well as competing in the new Formula E series and aiming to set a new electric land speed record.

Evolution of the Caterham Brand – Scott Thompson (Caterham Technology)

Scott Thompson talked about the 2011 investment into Caterham by the owners of Air India. This provided a foundation to develop the future business objectives of Caterham to focus on:

1. Motorsport on a global basis
2. Vehicle manufacturing
3. Being an engineering service provider

Recently Caterham has only produced around 500 vehicles per year, but the desire is to increase this to 1000’s, as well as improving the usability of its vehicles. There’s also a new project, a joint venture company with Renault to build a new sports car.

Morgan – Back to the Future – Tim Whitworth (Morgan Motor Company)

Over recent times the 104-year old Morgan Motor Company has grown from £9m to £40m turnover. It’s brought back the three-wheeler and has also developed the Morgan Plus E, a pure EV. The plan is for the future to involve new lightweight materials and more EV development.

The Ariel Atom Story – Simon Saunders (Ariel Motor Company)

Simon Saunders charted the history of Ariel, which was originally a company that built motorcycles, bikes and cars, and the Ariel name was resurrected in the 1990s, even though there was no link with the original business. Simon was keen to stress that Ariel operates in areas where major manufacturers don’t have an interest, as the company knows what it can and can’t do. He also reminded the audience that the Atom, a car from a small UK manufacturer, spent two years at the top of the Top Gear lap times board


The Niche Vehicle Network Symposium showed that there is life in the UK automotive industry outside of the foreign-owned major manufacturers. The low carbon agenda is a major influence in virtually all the Niche Vehicle Network projects. If small UK companies and consortiums can find solutions to low carbon challenges, the trick is to avoid the much-quoted ‘valley of death’ and instead get their ideas adopted by the OEMs. To grow sustainably and to sell ideas to larger companies, access to finance is usually required, and in many cases this still seems to be a key challenge.

Paul Clarke


Other Green Car Guide low carbon conference reviews:

Motorsport Industry Association Cleaner Racing Conference 2013

Cenex LCV2012 Event Review

LowCVP Conference 2012

Cenex Hybrid and Electric Vehicles Conference 2011