This week saw SMMT Connected 2019 taking place at the QEII Centre in London – it has been two years since we last held the conference, and the pace of development of connected and autonomous vehicles in that time has been astonishing. We hear on a regular basis of new pilots taking place in the UK with the latest systems that have been put together by some of the best minds in the industry.
In fact, we’ve reached the point where more than £500 million has been invested in CAV research and development in the UK. There are more than 80 collaborative projects underway, making use of four major test-beds and three more test sites where motorway, rural and urban conditions can be simulated.
It’s not just about the vehicles themselves – these cutting-edge projects rely on solid communications infrastructure, so the fact that more than £740 million has been committed to full fibre broadband rollout across the UK and 5G testing at key locations is critical.
The next step is about applying what has been learned to real-world testing. The UK has a supportive framework for research and initial testing, but what we need now is comprehensive infrastructure and supportive regulation from government that will ensure that connected and autonomous vehicles can be fully tested in the safest possible way.
Brexit might have monopolised discussion for the last two years or so, but we know that industry would much rather be investing the money spent on ‘no deal’ mitigation in the latest CAV technology and other innovative developments in which the UK must compete on a global level. The report we launched at SMMT Connected in conjunction with Frost & Sullivan is clear – there is a massive long-term reward to reap if we make the right choices around CAVs now.
The first step on what will be a long journey is to create the right business environment in the UK, doing all we can to signal that Britain is the right place to invest. That means finding consensus on Brexit in parliament, negotiating a close relationship with our biggest trading partner and ensuring stability. Not just financial stability, but security for the many thousands of highly skilled workers on whom we’ve built a successful automotive industry.
As I write, discussions are ongoing between the government and opposition, which is to be welcomed as the current impasse must be broken. Parliamentary measures legally to remove ‘no deal’ as an option are equally necessary to reassure investors but, again, we will need a supportive stance from the EU to ensure we have the time to resolve what remains the clear and present danger to our industry.