2021: a year of collaboration and promise

Reflections blog post from Ian Constance – Chief Executive Officer, APC UK

As we near the end of another year, I wanted to reflect on what became a momentous 12 months of significant progress for the UK’s net-zero transport ambitions.

People will, I suspect, look back on 2021 as a year of cautious promise, a moment when global leaders finally coalesced around the need for action, culminating in the agreements made at COP26. And a year too, in which the domestic policy agenda began to reflect the urgency of the task ahead.

The year opened with the PM’s Ten Point Plan setting the tone, with the addition of the Net Zero Strategy, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Hydrogen Strategy – providing direction for the next decade and beyond.

What might be missed though, beneath these headlines, is the super-human efforts being made on the ground to develop the pipeline of innovation necessary to sustain these ambitions. This, for me, has been the real story of the last 12 months: a rollcall of collaboration and achievement that lays the foundations for what the government is seeking to build, delivered in spite of everything COVID and supply chain shortages have thrown at us. 

A year of firsts

2021 provided a number of landmark moments.

One of the biggest highlights for me was seeing our Advanced Route to Market Demonstrator (ARMD) competition deliver a compelling illustration of everything we are trying to achieve at the Advanced Propulsion Centre. Introduced in 2020 as a direct response to R&D challenges caused by the pandemic, we aimed to reignite the flame of innovation within the UK automotive sector in the first COVID lockdown.

The 12 successful projects were celebrated at our first in-person event in nearly two years and, walking around the ARMD exhibits at the Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle show in September, you couldn’t help but feel pride in the tenacity of the sector and the significant contribution it can make to the green economy. The benefits of ARMD have far exceeded anyone’s expectations as two examples from AVL and Electrified Automation demonstrate.

Alongside this, we saw the first two major investments to support rapid supply chain scale-up through the Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF).  

The first came with Nissan and Envision AESC announcing the expansion of their gigafactory in Sunderland, followed later in the year with Ford announcing the development of electric drive units at Halewood, transitioning a plant that currently produces internal combustion engine technology.

These are not only investments in the future supply chain, but support the levelling-up agenda and protect UK jobs and livelihoods – a point not lost on government who, ahead of the comprehensive spending review, announced a further £350m ATF funding to continue this progress.

From mass industrialisation to seeding the future, our SME support through the Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP) continues to go from strength to strength.

2021 saw TDAP supported businesses raise over £45 million of independent investment. It’s fantastic to see alumni releasing their first products onto the market, including Brill Power launching their ingenious battery management system, and White Motorcycle Concepts realising their initial market entry with a motorbike for first responders. We look forward to seeing many more products released in the years to come. 

2021 also saw a record investment for our collaborative R&D competitions, with APC18 totalling £91.7 million of joint funding, reflecting the extent to which industry shares our commitment to invest in low carbon capabilities. I’m already looking forward to seeing what exciting innovation APC19 brings when it is announced in the new year.

Influencing change

Yet 2021 also exemplified the very best of how we work. Collaboration runs through all APC activity, from our competitions and stakeholder engagement, to the way we work together within the innovation ecosystem.

Despite the pandemic, we hosted no fewer than 24 virtual events and fulfilled over 50 speaker opportunities this year, all of them helping to share ideas and generate valuable insight with our peers.

It’s a measure of how far things have progressed that, during 2021, we’ve had opportunity to influence at the highest level. We’ve held multiple discussions with ministers, MPs, scientific and industry advisors across a number of government departments. I was honoured to give evidence to the House of Lords on batteries and fuels cells and share our insight with senior advisers at the G7 summit. 

I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak face-to-face with Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, at the opening of the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry and reinforce the message that automotive innovation and design can drive the green industrial revolution. 

Looking ahead

So, what next? In 2022, the APC will continue to focus on supporting the transition to net-zero, helping the supply chain meet the increasing demand, continuing to invest in R&D to bring innovations to market and working towards true net zero by helping to deliver the government’s strategy.

COVID-19, of course, continues to cast a shadow across our landscape, and so we’ll also make sure our projects and teams are constantly adjusting to deliver our work safely: as the impact of Omicron becomes more apparent, we’ll strive to balance the health and safety of our projects and our people, keeping everyone safe and well while continuing to make progress on our goals.

Most important of all, we’ll continue to invest in the deep and productive partnerships that have moved us forward in 2021, working hand-in-hand with industry and government to build on this year’s progress and meet the challenges ahead.

On behalf of everyone at the APC, I wish you the very best for 2022 and we look forward to working with you in the months ahead.  

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