Finding our flex in the flux

Blog post by Ian Constance, Chief Executive Officer, APC UK 

01 November 2022 In this period of increasing turbulence and uncertainty, I have taken time to pause and reflect on the enormity of the journey we, as a sector, have been on.

From waking up to the challenge of low carbon, to taking meaningful action towards zero carbon. Then, beyond the current thinking on net zero and the inevitable cross-sector implications that this will bring, we must now recognise the critical importance that connected and autonomous mobility (CAM) will play in our future and inevitable convergence within industry.

This journey was represented by all the wonderful exhibitors at the 15th annual Cenex LCV CAM show in September, and the 10 partners on the UK Government Pavilion.

It was great to be back at UTAC Millbrook again and my overriding impression was that the stand, and supported project technology on display, represented this vibrant UK ecosystem.

Now I am pleased to see that ecosystem going from strength to strength. We have come a long way in those 15 years since the first show.

Not only are we now scaling and building an industrial supply chain through mechanisms like the Automotive Transformation Fund, but we have strength and depth in the core electrification systems through organisations like Driving the Electric Revolution and the Faraday Battery Challenge.

3 mega-trends

Let’s look at the key forces of change today:

Decarbonisation

This remains the defining challenge of our generation and is what started this journey. We’ve got to where we are now in the transition with some carrot and stick in the form of incentives and regulations.

The vision of clean and quiet battery electric cars and vans plying our streets is not only a good one, but it is now becoming a reality.

Our latest projections show UK automotive domestic battery demand up now to 98GWh by 2030. This is based on a major switch to battery electric vehicles, with around 1.2 million domestically produced cars and vans – and battery electric being the predominant propulsion mode made in UK assembly plants by a significant margin.

We are making good progress when it comes to electric vehicles, however, there’s clearly a long way to go for us to reach net zero. We must move to a full lifecycle way of thinking: from pulling the minerals out of the ground, right through the manufacturing process and finally to recycling materials effectively for reuse. This is going to be a real challenge.

Technology and communication

The onward march of artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced robotics to quantum computing means that the dream for some (perhaps the nightmare for others) of autonomous driving gets ever closer. Faster and better communications opens up the potential for new transport business models and novel ways of getting around.

But this not only influences the way we travel and transport goods – it has major ramifications on the way we design, develop, test and manufacture those products and services. In the way we work and the way we live – advanced digitalisation will affect everything.

Geopolitical instability

The third force has produced profound changes, and particularly so this year.

The trend towards globalisation over recent decades is now rapidly shifting. The world seems less stable now than at any time in most of our lives, with the war in Ukraine, a cost-of-living crisis and fresh political upheaval. We have become accustomed to supply chains that work seamlessly, enabling access to huge quantities of goods around the world, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore. Sadly, this will have to play into our thinking about the future shape of our industry.

Moving forward

To stay on top of all three of these trends, it is critical that we – UK industry and government – keep investing in research and development. That will boost innovation, reduce cost and improve performance making vehicles affordable and accessible for all.

Batteries remain the single biggest cost element in this equation, but to get the cost down to affordable levels we must innovate across the whole spectrum, improving efficiency, reducing vehicle weight, and boosting fast charging with more and better infrastructure.

I was pleased to meet the former Secretary of State for Business last month at the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, where I stressed the need to back this innovation and support growth of the battery supply chain in the UK.

UKBIC Managing Director Jeff Pratt and former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg

It is starting to take shape – the Automotive Transformation Fund being a key driver here with our automotive and chemical sectors working together, leveraging UK’s mining and mineral knowhow, supporting innovative, ambitious start-ups and scale-ups that are defining this space.

The APC recently announced its Scale-up Readiness Validation competition winners to help drive forward the UK’s commitment to this agenda. Yet Europe and the UK are behind in building capacity for battery cathodes, anodes, separators, and more lithium supply is required to keep supply of batteries on track.

Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM)

If decarbonisation is a regulatory pull, then connected and automated mobility (CAM) is a technology push. We know that clearing regulatory hurdles is a massive challenge. That’s not to say that technology challenges aren’t solved, and teams at the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), Zenzic and Innovate UK have invested in the CAM Test Bed UK to create the conditions to attract the brightest technology players in the field.

CCAV recently closed a round of funding for Commercialising CAM for initial commercial deployment. Colleagues at Zenzic have released their supply chain report – providing evidence that the UK has key strengths in software, AI, cyber security, the core digital and physical tools for simulation and testing, and the legal and insurance knowhow to get things moving.

The UK’s innovation excellence is recognised around the world – but to stay at the forefront we must take on some fairly radical challenges to the way we design, develop and make things. Digitalisation tools and techniques, along with the requisite skills are game-changing and will further secure our role as a go-to place for zero-emission vehicles and connected autonomous mobility.

Advanced digitalisation brings with it the ability to super charge productivity in this regard, being at the forefront of developing and proving the methods and techniques that drive efficiency and speed to market.

Investing in R&D

And so, to flex a little about what the APC has achieved, of which I am immensely proud: now we have closed entries to round 22 of our collaborative research and development programme, it means that APC and its partners have invested over £1.3bn over the past 10 years – and with it created and safeguarded over 50,000 UK jobs and supported a wide range of carbon-cutting solutions that will save over 300 million tonnes of CO2.

We are soon to announce the winners of our latest round of competition funding, with some exciting projects coming into being, I urge you to watch this space.

As I have said, it’s a good start, but there’s still plenty to do.

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