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    Event Review: Prime Minister’s Zero Emission Vehicle Summit – Will Brexit Derail UK Industry’s Ability to Deliver the Road to Zero?

    The Prime Minister, UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark, and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Industry & Energy Richard Harrington, all attended the Zero Emission Vehicle Summit that took place in Birmingham on 11 September 2018 – suggesting that electric vehicles are a genuine priority for the government…

    However, at the same event, Dr. Ralf Speth, CEO, Jaguar Land Rover, warned that the ‘wrong Brexit’ would potentially damage JLR’s investment in electric vehicles, as well as create serious problems for the company as a whole.

    The Prime Minister, Theresa May, explained how the Zero Emission Vehicle Summit aimed to take forward the Road to Zero strategy document, in order to provide more detail about how we will achieve our mission of putting the UK at the forefront of ZEVs by 2040.

    The Prime Minister talked about the government “backing the technology of the future” and “Britain leading from the front to spearhead change.” In order to provide some substance behind the words, over £100 million of funding for innovators in new technology was announced on the day of the Summit.

    In a presentation made just prior to the Prime Minister’s address, Dr. Ralf Speth, CEO, Jaguar Land Rover, talked about how JLR was investing in EVs, bringing the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE to market, but he also raised the subject of Brexit. He referred to the “right decisions versus the wrong decisions about Brexit leading to the best versus the worst of times”.

    If the right Brexit deal isn’t struck on 29 March 2019, Ralf said that “he didn’t know if any UK JLR manufacturing facilities would even be able to function on 30 March”.

    JLR manufactures 3,000 cars per day using 25 million components, with deep supply chains in Europe, using ‘just in time’ processes; if these slow down, it can cost JLR £60 million per day. Therefore frictionless trade is necessary, and access to the single market is “as important to JLR as wheels are to a car”. It’s cheaper to make cars in Eastern Europe anyway, but Brexit may mean that JLR can’t physically build cars on time and on budget in the UK.

    A hard Brexit could cost JLR £1.2 billion per year and destroy R&D. Ralf said that “we’re currently 6 months from Brexit and JLR is now having to make decisions that can’t be reversed”.

    So Ralf made a plea that free frictionless trade and clarity is needed, as over 40,000 people in the UK are directly employed by JLR, as well as jobs in the supply chain.

    He also referred to the latest diesel vehicles being some of cleanest cars ever made, and that they were the right choice for many people, yet consumers are being disincentivised to buy them.  As a result JLR has had to reduce its workforce by over 1,000 people – when instead jobs should have been created.

    Ralf also said that JLR, as a car maker, can’t do everything alone, and that collaboration is key – between government, academia and industry.

    Carolyn Fairbairn, Director General, Confederation of British Industries (CBI) also stressed the need for free trade, as the automotive industry is international, and that international collaboration is required to develop expensive new electric vehicles faster.

    UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling summarised a number of zero emission vehicle-related initiatives that are currently underway, including the formation of the new Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce.

    The Taskforce, which the LowCVP will provide secretariat functions for, will, for the first time, bring together the energy and automotive industries to plan for the changes that will take place as a result of rising electric vehicle use.

    Chris Grayling also stressed the need for industry, consumers and government to work together to achieve the aspirations of the Road to Zero – and to make the most of the ‘unprecedented opportunities’ for the UK.

    Another speaker at the Summit was Margo T. Oge, ex-director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the EPA, serving under President Barack Obama. She explained how she had overseen progress in areas such as doubling the fuel efficiency of cars in America, which was a “win win win for consumers, industry and the environment”. However this was now under attack from Trump, who is proposing to freeze fuel economy standards, which has led to 18 states suing the President. With parallels to the Brexit scenario, Margo stressed that the car industry needs certainty in order to invest, and that the US car industry needs to compete globally, which it won’t be able to do if its cars are less efficient than competitors worldwide.

    The Summit also included a video message from Prince Charles, who said that he had just taken delivery of two new electric Jaguar I-PACEs – suggesting that supply of production I-PACEs is finally coming through.

    In summary, the Zero Emission Vehicle Summit was designed to demonstrate the government’s commitment to ZEVs. However collaboration – including international collaboration – is needed for the car industry to deliver the products that the government wants. There has been lots of low carbon vehicle progress in the UK in the last decade due to industry-government partnership resulting in the bridging of various ‘valleys of death’ such as the the formation of organisations like the Automotive Council, the Advanced Propulsion Centre and more recently Meridian, to accelerate the development of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. But the UK’s ability to deliver the Road to Zero is likely to be severely hindered if Brexit results in barriers that mean that the growing UK low carbon vehicle industry becomes less competitive.

    What Ralf Speth said at the Zero Emission Vehicle Summit was nothing new – UK car company CEOs and the SMMT have been saying the same thing since the Brexit vote – but it seems that politicians haven’t been listening. Can politicians now demonstrate collaboration in order to protect the UK’s growing low carbon vehicle industry and allow UK companies to deliver the Prime Minister’s Zero Emission Vehicle vision?

    Paul Clarke

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