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April 21, 2010

ANALYSIS: UK needs to up its R&D game

The UK is losing its automotive research and development capability as big car makers, supplier companies and quality engineering talent leave the country.

The UK is losing its automotive research and development capability as big car makers, supplier companies and quality engineering talent leave the country.

Richard Parry-Jones, who chair’s the UK’s Automotive Council with Lord Mandelson, told the Sunderland International Automotive Conference that the country needs to reverse the leakage of talent over the past 10-15 years.

To do this it needs to improve the image of the industry and to attract high technology businesses.

Parry-Jones said: “There are new technologies emerging with the development of environmentally friendly vehicles and materials and this presents an opportunity to establish the UK as a centre of excellence.”

There are already encouraging signs following Nissan’s announcement that it will build its new Leaf electric vehicle at its Sunderland plant and is also building a brand new EV battery factory close by.

Toyota is also to build its Auris hybrid car at its plant in Derbyshire.

Parry-Jones added: “We have to b e involved in new technologies such as batteries, energy storage devices and lightweight materials so that we can bring back research and development capabilities which have been lost.

“Apart from Ford which carries out most of its global petrol and diesel engine R&D in the UK, we have no other major motor industry company headquarters. Whereas R&D expenditure in Germany, France and Spain has grown over the past 10 years, in Britain it has declined to the point where we just have assembly operations.”

He added that this is one of the reasons the Automotive Council, comprising automotive companies, associations and the government, has been established.

“In the past the government has taken laissez faire attitude to the automotive industry, waiting until it is terminally ill before throwing huge amounts of money at it. Nearly always too late and that money has been wasted.

“Now we are working with the government to try and ensure the patient remains healthy.

“While there is no shortage of good engineering graduates in the UK, the issue is keeping them here and to do that we need the investment in R&D. We do have a shortage however at technician level which is where we lag behind countries such as Germany and Japan.”

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