Driving the supply chain shows opportunities in tough times

The Iain Gray Column

Driving the new extended-range electric Lotus Evora around Millbrook’s test track was the highlight of a recent low-carbon vehicles event, but it also exemplifies how the UK is innovating in the automotive supply chain.

One of the highlights of my month was participating in the CENEX Low Carbon Vehicle (LCV) event at Millbrook Proving Ground (5th and 6th September). An extremely impressive event showcasing the capabilities of UK technology providers and universities and demonstrating LCV technology through hands-on driving experience (my favourite bit!).

This event was made most impressive as it brought home for me just how many small businesses were benefitting from being in the supply chain for these low carbon and ultra low carbon vehicles – roughly half of the attendees (c. 594 individuals) were from contributing SMEs.

The recession has been incredibly tough on supply chains, but this LCV event proved just how much opportunity can come from tough times. The economic disruption of existing supply chains and the need to build new ones in itself creates innovation – as newly-formed and refocused chains take forward great ideas, keep production costs viable, grow new capabilities and anchor them in the UK.

The theme of supply chain development at the LCV event gave us the chance to show off some of the results of our fourth Integrated Delivery Programme (IDP4) competition, as we used our Technology Strategy Board display area to evidence great supply chain innovation.

The REEVolution project, supported by the Technology Strategy Board, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV), was just one example. This unique collaboration brought three world-class vehicle manufacturers together with smaller vehicle technology suppliers, accelerating the development of new technologies while laying the foundations for a globally competitive supply base.

The project has already produced three technical demonstrator cars – high-end, range extended, electric vehicles with CO2 emissions around 70% lower than current ‘best in class’ equivalents. We saw the the XJe from Jaguar; the Evora 414E from Lotus; and the Infiniti Emerg-e on the Millbrook track. All of these larger manufacturers were accompanied by their supply chain partners in the project.

The IDP4 competition and resulting activity has brought about incredible benefits for those SMEs working in the supply chain with the larger automotive companies, by:

• generating a culture within the automotive industry that the larger companies and SMEs are working on a mutual ‘cause’ and facing in the same direction
• encouraging knowledge sharing – the SMEs providing disruptive and innovative ideas that the larger automotive companies can consider within its R&D
• finding niche areas for the SMEs, filling gaps in the larger manufacturer’s supply chain so that the SME can grow its own business, reputation and marketability
• helping SMEs learn how to become a key supplier for a top manufacturer, where it would have found it difficult to get close enough any other way.

This is only one of many examples of how the Technology Strategy Board is helping to foster growth within UK supply chains, through innovative collaborations and supply chain models.
If you would like to learn more about the programmes we run (including further LCV competitions), look through our competition pages.

Iain Gray is the chief exective of the Technology Strategy Board.