The Niche Vehicle Sector – a vital part of the innovation ecosystem

Blog post

The UK Niche Vehicle Sector is widely regarded as a vital part of our innovation ecosystem, with a reputation for pioneering development and early adoption of emerging technologies. It’s also incredibly diverse, manufacturing a host of specialist vehicles in limited volumes, to meet the needs and wants of end-users whose utilisation is typically different to those of mainstream vehicles.

The Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) supports and aligns with the Niche Vehicle Network Collaborative R&D programme and specifically provides grant funding for the Production readiness (PR) Projects. This aligns closely with our own ultimate objective of enabling low carbon propulsion technology to build UK capability, through the research, development and industrialisation of these emerging technologies. For the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of working with Viv Stephens (Network Director, NVN) and Scott Thompson (NVN Project Monitoring Officer) as the APC representative supporting the monitoring of these PR Projects.

The project timescale is nine months (plus one-month report-out) and I’m continually impressed and excited to see the development and manufacturing capability that’s achieved in such a relatively short period. The Niche Vehicle sector is definitely agile, innovative, fast to market, and highly productive – as you may expect from a sector dominated by technology-driven, Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

This reminds me of another synergy across our platforms, that being the APC‘s Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP), which is dedicated to SMEs with early-stage technology; providing support to develop their technology and, importantly for sustainability, also their business capability and credibility. We now see companies who have successfully completed an NVN Proof of Concept project, working on the TDAP programme and TDAP Partners working on Production Readiness programmes. This is a gratifying reminder of our coordinated and supportive innovation ecosystem within the UK, building capability towards an APC core collaborative project, as the step to near commercialisation of these exciting products.

I’m often asked what makes a good NVN Production Readiness Project – a big question indeed and one Scott and Viv deal with in developing projects. However, a fundamental for me is that your consortium has got to be right for the individual and collective tasks, with a focus on the required outcomes. We’ve already established the NVN members are agile and highly innovative and all partners need similar attributes, to be aligned with the required pace of activity within the programme and have common end goals towards a commercialised opportunity. It goes without saying you have to enjoy working together, but also with mutual respect and cohesion to resolve issues that will develop in this cutting edge, high-tech environment. I’ve seen this in positive action, in NVN and APC projects and it’s great to experience – like a well-trained rugby team going through the phases; working as a collective, maintaining focus, with patience and sharp decision-making and scoring a try that started from their own 22! (Can you tell I’m missing my favourite sport? …But the analogy does work – without the physical contact of course!).

The Niche Vehicle Network has a great diversity of members, vehicles and applications; similarly reflected in the range of Production Readiness Projects and associated technologies, including:

  • E-powertrains  
  • Electric superbikes 
  • Lightweight composite and titanium road wheels 
  • An autonomous road sweeper POD 
  • Nano enhanced composite body panels 
  • Battery electric commuter/offroad bikes 
  • Hybrid electric buses  
  • A lightweight super car with an innovative structural carbon composite body, that launched at the Geneva motor show in 2019.  

The skills involved are equally impressive; advanced capabilities in simulation, aerodynamics, thermal management, composite tooling, electrification, system integration, novel manufacturing techniques, compact battery and e-motor designs, energy recovery systems and full testing and validation.

And all of that is driven by a passion to produce unique, exciting vehicles for the challenges of today and the requirements of a low carbon future.

For more information, please refer to the  “Niche Vehicle Manufacturing in the UK – A Sector Mapping Study” – an independent study, commissioned by the Niche Vehicle Network and sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy that focuses on the top tier of the niche vehicle industry – specifically OEMs and vehicle converters.  

Key objectives of this study were to quantify and characterise the UKs niche vehicle sector, its size, shape, diversity and dynamics, whilst also demonstrating the importance of the network’s support to the whole niche vehicle supply chain and the value-add of the UK niche sector to UK plc.

I hope this blog has given you a brief insight into this highly active and influential automotive sector. 

 You will also then be able to apply for the next exciting event detailed below: 

Niche Vehicle Symposium 2020 

The 9th Niche Vehicle Symposium, showcasing UK niche vehicle collaborative innovation in low carbon technologies, takes place on Wednesday 9th September and is an online event. 

With a Keynote Address presented by Rachel Maclean MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport,the comprehensive speaker programme also includes a plenary session with representatives from Innovate UK and the Advanced Propulsion Centre, followed by dissemination of completed NVN R&D projects centred on the themes of vehicle electrification, zero emissions and light-weighting technologies.  

Companies presenting these latest developments in niche vehicle automotive technology include Ariel, Prodrive Composites, BAC, Sunamp, Pashley Cycles, Carbon ThreeSixty and many more! 

Other features of the Niche Vehicle Symposium include: 

  • Interactive ‘Meet the Speaker’ Q&A after each session with senior representatives from prominent niche vehicle companies 
  • A ‘Virtual Hub’ that will include information on niche vehicle case studies, manufacturer insights, factory tours, new product developments and much more 
  • Launch of 2020 Niche Vehicle Feasibility Studies Competition 
  • Delegate Directory to enable delegates to reach out and make contact with other NVN members 

With lively and compelling debate, this will be an immersive, highly informative and interactive leading industry event. 

The event is free and only open to members of the Niche Vehicle Network.