Car makers team up with SMEs to produce low-carbon vehicles

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Large vehicle manufacturers are mentoring smaller supply companies as part of a project to develop a low-carbon-vehicle supply chain in the UK.

Jaguar Land Rover, Lotus and Nissan’s luxury car division, Infiniti, are collaborating with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to produce three low-carbon demonstrator vehicles this year through a £20.5m Technology Strategy Board (TSB)-backed project.

The project, entitled ‘Evolution of REEV Technologies — Building a UK Supply Base’ (REEVolution), began in 2010 and aims to deliver range-extended electric vehicle products while developing UK suppliers of new ultra-low-carbon technologies.

Infiniti’s EMERG-E, a hybrid supercar, was unveiled this week at the Geneva Motor Show as the first demonstrator vehicle, and the remaining vehicles are set to be unveiled this summer.

John Laughlin, the TSB’s low-carbon-vehicle programme manager, told The Engineer: ‘The vehicle manufacturers bring the industrial infrastructure, strong market understanding and the relevant standards, while SMEs bring intellectual know-how, innovation, technology and different ways of thinking and solving problems.

‘The consortium is working together to build early relationships and to start solving some of the complex technical barriers that need to be overcome to successfully open up the market potential of low-carbon vehicles.’

Technology challenges

The project ultimately aims to develop solutions to current technological challenges, such as battery pack development, hybrid powertrains, lightweight structures and components and range extenders.

‘Relationships are being formed at an early stage in this development, which is critical,’ said Laughlin. ‘As the companies solve the technical issues, they can create exploitable intellectual property that will be anchored in the UK and position themselves to be well placed to work together in the future.’

The vehicle manufacturers are setting the standards for the smaller companies in areas such as quality, reliability and cost and working with them so that they understand what it means to provide parts at various volumes.

‘This helps position the smaller companies for the potential exploitation of the technology on a global scale, helping them to move closer to being able to supply Tier 1 manufacturers or indeed become Tier 1 suppliers to the vehicle manufacturers themselves,’ he added.

According to Laughlin, the UK makes nearly three million engines and 1.3 million cars in the UK every year, but the supply chain has been weakening. He believes the low-carbon-vehicle market could represent an opportunity to start growing the supply chain again, and provide products and services to vehicle manufacturers in the UK and around the world.

The project received £9.5m from the TSB and £11m from the industry partners themselves.