What does the unveiling of a Chinese carmaker as Bloodhound’s prime sponsor say about UK industry?
The unveiling of China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding (ZGH) Group as the main sponsor for the UK’s Bloodhound supersonic car project has raised more than a few eyebrows.
Here is a prestige UK engineering project, one of whose chief aims is to put British engineering expertise on the world stage, and yet the main sponsor is an automotive firm that few in the UK will even have heard of (in case you’re not familiar with Geely – as it’s generally known – it’s one of China’s largest automotive manufacturers, and also the owner of Volvo, which it acquired from Ford in 2010).
For the Bloodhound team, the deal represents a welcome cash injection that will help it keep its efforts to break the world land speed record next year firmly on track. The team hopes to break the current land speed record of 763mph next October, and to ultimately take the car above 1,000mph.
But the deal does perhaps raise questions about UK industry’s willingness to put its money where its mouth is.
It’s been hard to escape Bloodhound over the last few years. An ever-present fixture at industry exhibitions and school playgrounds up and down the country, the project has rightly been hailed as an exemplar of engineering engagement. And whilst it’s important to stress that there are indeed a number of high profile UK sponsors – Rolls Royce and EPSRC amongst others – it’s also notable, and perhaps disappointing, that the top slot hasn’t been snapped up by a company with a bit more of an existing stake in UK engineering and manufacturing.
There’s little doubt that for Geely the relationship represents a great opportunity – and we can safely assume that’s not because it wants to develop supersonic taxi cabs (Geely is perhaps best known in the UK as the owner of the London Taxi Company).
Despite rapid growth in recent years, Chinese automotive companies have so far struggled to establish their brands in Western markets, and the Bloodhound deal can perhaps be viewed as part of wider push on the part of the Chinese industry to talk up its credentials as serious carmaker and to familiarise Western audiences with its brand.
But there are also some strong positives from a UK perspective. Geely has vowed to take Bloodhound’s STEM message out to Asia, something which could help attract more overseas engineers to the UK at a time employers continue to report problems recruiting skilled engineers. And with the UK considering how it might expand into other international markets once it leaves the EU, the relationship might also help raise the profile of UK engineering in arguably the most important international market of them all.
Ultimately then, whist it’s an interesting debate, it’s also one which we should perhaps be wary of reading too much into. Geely’s involvement puts Bloodhound well on course to enter the record books this time next year. And that’s something we should all get excited about.