The recent spate of job losses announced across the UK motor industry are masking Britain’s success as a vehicle manufacturer and its thriving role as a leading developer of automotive-based systems and technology.
That’s the view expressed by Dr Nick Barter, Director of SMMT Foresight Vehicle, the UK’s prime knowledge transfer body for the auto industry. Far from heralding the end of a once proud industry, Dr Barter, a former engineering director of Jaguar Cars, says the current job losses, while extremely regrettable, cloud the true picture of Britain as a dynamic part of the global motor industry .
“We may have fewer people actually building cars, but people don’t realise that output last year equalled the peak of the early ’70s and we now have many more involved in the successful research and development of technologies, critical to our medium and longer term future,” he explained.
“The face of motor manufacturing in Britain may be changing, but the country’s involvement in developing new manufacturing techniques and materials, creating advanced telematics and devising new propulsion systems has never been more intense.”
Much of this new research is being undertaken through the Government-backed SMMT Foresight Vehicle initiative with leading companies and academic institutions joining forces in more than 100 cutting-edge automotive research programmes.
Yet Dr Barter believes this pioneering work and Britain’s automotive industry as a whole is being widely undervalued.
“It’s often forgotten that directly and indirectly the UK automotive industry employs around 800,000 people, turns over £47 billion – almost 10 per cent of the UK’s manufacturing total – and exports £20 billion worth of products every year,” added Dr Barter. “And we have Europe’s most productive car plant – Nissan at Sunderland. ”
In his role as Director of SMMT Foresight Vehicle, Dr Barter and his colleagues oversee a wide variety of research projects aimed at maintaining Britain’s position as a leading player in the global motor industry. SMMT Foresight Vehicle, for example, was recently confirmed as part of a vital new Knowledge Transfer Network, headed by Cenex, engaging all those involved in work on low carbon and fuel cell technologies.
“We’ve always been good at inventing and problem-solving in Britain and current work is helping to develop components and technologies which meet many of the industry’s most pressing requirements in fields such as emissions, alternative energy sources and telematics,” said Dr Barter. “The British motor industry has certainly changed radically over the past 30 years, but it’s still alive and kicking.”