Clean break

Automotive manufacturers are investing in engineers who can develop and deliver a new generation of vehicles with low environmental impact. Julia Pierce reports.


As legislation governing emissions from both private and commercial vehicles tightens, so automotive engineers are being employed in ever increasing numbers to create the cleaner, greener vehicles of the future.

The EU has proposed that from 2012 average carbon dioxide emissions for new private cars should be 120g/km. For engineers, this creates a design challenge. With some luxury marques emitting more than 300g/km, unless changes to current powertrain systems are made, owners will face a per-gram penalty that rises every year from 2012.

As a result, manufacturers are investing heavily in new engineers who can meet this challenge and deliver a new generation of lean vehicles with low environmental impact.

Last year, Jaguar Land Rover announced a £700m investment to develop new environmental technologies for its vehicles. To support this and other actions the company initiated a recruitment programme for around 600 new staff, mostly in engineering roles to work on the creation of more fuel-efficient and cleaner vehicles.

‘We are looking for people with electrical and mechanical skills to support product development of the next generation of powertrain and sustainable products,’ said Bob Joyce, group engineering director for Jaguar Land Rover. ‘This includes hybrid technologies, diesel and petrol drive lines and electrical systems.’ As well as being a response to emissions legislation, such development and innovation is taking place in answer to customer demand. The company has already hired 240 engineers this year and is seeking a further 100 to be based at its engineering centres in Whitley, near Coventry, and Gaydon, Warwickshire. ‘We are seeking a broad range of skills within the electrical and mechanical engineering disciplines,’ said Joyce.

As a result of the process, new hybrid-powered vehicles from the company are expected to go on sale in the UK within five years. The engineers will also be working on a range of technologies based around its petrol and diesel engines.

A micro-hybrid using stop-start technology and based around the V6 diesel will be the first to be launched and this innovation alone is expected to boost the fuel economy of the vehicles featuring it by up to 10 per cent. Other technologies under development, and on which new staff would be working, include full-hybrids and a Land Rover hybrid vehicle using the company’s rear-mounted Electric Rear Axle Drive electric motor.

JLR is leading the Limo Green project recently announced by the Technology Strategy Board and the DoT. This aims to prove the concept of developing a large executive hybrid saloon with sub-120g/km emissions, while maintaining high levels of performance and refinement.

As part of this, Caparo Vehicle Technologies, part of Caparo Vehicle Products, is developing lightweight vehicle structures and components for five areas of the vehicle — brakes, both calipers and discs, rear sub-frame, rear floor, seat frame and door inner — in a way that can be replicated in a mainstream high-volume manufacturing programme. Such demand for lighter cars with resulting improved fuel efficiency is causing the business to expand.

‘We are growing quite rapidly as a group of companies,’ said managing director Martin Osin. ‘We are looking for people with a background in body engineering, materials specialists, processing specialists and designers, or combinations of these skills. People want a weight reduction, but may not be familiar with how the materials behave so we have to change their thinking on the design and assembly processes.’

Meanwhile, similar challenges are faced by commercial vehicles such as HGVs and construction class machines. ‘From 2011 the regulations concerning diesel emissions are really tightening up,’ said Ray Lathan, engineering services supervisor at Caterpillar. ‘Particulate emissions are going to be massively reduced, along with nitrogen oxides. It will almost require brand new engines in all Caterpillar products.

‘As well as a silencer we will need particulate filters and catalytic converters in the after-treatment [of exhaust gases]. It affects practically every part of the truck,’ he said.

The company is looking for engineers with experience of the design of construction equipment and earth-moving machinery, working in divisions such as powertrain, hydraulics and non-metallics. ‘The technology is changing rapidly,’ said Lathan.

‘Rather than just changing to meet legislative requirements we are also adapting designs to customer demands. For example, articulated trucks are highly complex to drive and require skilled operators, yet these are few and far between. So we want to re-design them to be as easy to drive as an automatic car.’

As always, high demand for suitably experienced engineers has exposed a shortfall in the market. ‘Our clients have found that there is a substantial shortage of good engineers and technicians,’ said Richard Gotch, managing director at marketing consultant Market Engineering, which specialises in the automotive technology sector.

‘One reason for this is that universities have increasingly become the destination for students who might formerly have gained a more practical education from a polytechnic or apprenticeship. Unfortunately, the drive to recruit students means that many are taking courses that are not best suited to their abilities, graduating with neither the academic skills to become a professional engineer, nor the technical knowledge that might have previously made them an excellent technician or team supervisor.’

He has an interesting proposition for engineers who would like to continue working within the industry, but who might be seeking a change from direct employment in manufacturing or design. ‘We are looking for people at any level who might want to step outside a traditional engineering role to work on the marketing communications side of the business,’ he said. ‘The role involves working at the highest level in businesses to understand and describe the innovations and benefits of their technologies. We need engineers, as you have to understand the industry and grasp new concepts quickly — but finding people who have a broader commercial appreciation and can communicate well is a big challenge.’

According to Gotch, the heavier side of the industry is bearing the brunt of candidate shortages. ‘Some areas are overlooked by candidates, simply because of outdated thinking. Products such as diesel fuel injectors, for example, are extremely hi-tech, but can put off candidates because diesel is incorrectly seen as unsophisticated,’ he said.

‘However, to me the automotive sector is more advanced than the aerospace industry, particular in the approach to manufacturing efficiency and continuous improvement. The technologies being used really are at the cutting edge, driven by very high levels of competition and the need to continuously meet very demanding type approval standards that are constantly pushing R&D to deliver safer, cleaner vehicles. Combine this with the need to add more features, more comfort and more brand-specific innovation, all without increasing the end price, and you have a very exciting industry.’

This is echoed by Jaguar Land Rover, which notes that commitment to cleaner vehicle innovation is something that is set to continue, creating excellent prospects for experienced engineers. Its involvement in the government’s Low Carbon Vehicle programme will continue for many years. As well as the full hybrid Jaguar ‘green limo’, they will work on a plug-in hybrid called the Range Extended Electric Vehicle, and a new flywheel-based energy recovery system.

‘This is a really exciting time for engineers to be working in the automotive business,’ said Jaguar Land Rover’s Joyce. ‘There is a lot of cutting edge work going on out here.’