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    Event Review: A winning edge: the difference is design – why North West automotive companies must invest in design

    All automotive-related companies in the North West can become more profitable by investing in design. This is one of the main messages from an event that took place at Bentley on 29 April 2014

    The event was organised by the Design Council, in collaboration with the NAA and other partners. ‘Design’ as referred to by the Design Council meant a wide range of things – from the design of a company identity to a company’s operating systems to the design of manufactured products. The overall message was that investment in design – whatever variety of design – can result in your business turning £1 into £20 or more. This figure is based on the Design Council’s Design Leadership Programme delivering a return of over £20 on every £1 spent on design.

    A number of speakers presented at the event, but it was clear that Bentley, the event host, provided an excellent example of how good design should permeate through all areas of a company.

    Bentleys have a classic underlying design style, which has been brought skilfully up to date. All the individual components in a Bentley are painstakingly designed – there’s no better example than the sumptuous interior. However there are also aspects of a Bentley that have highly innovative, modern design that the average person will never see – such as the carbon fibre structures where the design brief is all about achieving better performance from the material.

    And yet another element of ‘design’ – and one that wasn’t really covered at the event – was the increasing use of simulated, immersive virtual prototypes; techniques that Bentley is utilising to significantly reduce timescales for the development of new vehicles and to enhance build quality. This area of design is the subject of a project led by the NAA called STRIVE (Simulation Tools for Rapid Innovation in Vehicle Engineering) – an AMSCI-funded project to create a new ‘digital’ supply chain for the UK automotive sector.

    Finally, the entire brand identity of Bentley – based on luxury and performance – is one of the most powerful in the world, and the company’s record global sales over the last year testify to the strength of the Bentley brand.

    Bentley may be a large OEM, but there was also a presentation from a much smaller company, NAA member Juno Racing, about how it had improved the design of its brand, showing that all companies, regardless of size, should be harnessing the power of design.

    Rolls-Royce Aerospace was also present. Its big message was that the company is working very hard to improve the design capability of its suppliers – and there are potentially huge opportunities for suppliers that are prepared to seriously invest in design and innovation.

    Bentley’s Michael Straughan closed the event – Bentley wants to expand its supplier base in the UK where it can, but it needs robust companies that can design products to meet the very exacting standards of Bentley and its customers; products that contribute to the ‘Britishness’ of the car’s design, but that can also assist Bentley with the challenges it faces today and tomorrow.

    In summary, OEMs want to see suppliers demonstrating best possible design – in all areas of their business. Every company in the NAA network should consider how it can do this, in order to enjoy business benefits. If you want to discuss how you can incorporate better design into your company, speak to NAA Chief Executive Carol Holden

    Paul Clarke


    European Regional Development Fund Northern Powerhouse
    Partners Department for Business Innovation and Skills Finance Birmingham