The business card is as plain as vanilla. It says 'Sir Ian Gibson CBE' above a couple of contact points. The man synonymous with the success of Nissan manufacturing in Europe no longer has any executive status in the automotive industry.
But his contributions are far from an end. Sir Ian is chairman of the Government's Automotive Innovation and Growth Team (AIGT). His brief: to discover how the Government and the industry can stop beating each other up.
“This is unpaid and it is taking a slug more of my time than I expected,” said Sir Ian. “It is my parting gift to the industry that fed and clothed me – my bequest to the nation.”
Sir Ian has interim briefings from four project teams and is due to report by spring. “The formation of this inquiry is a response to the fraught relationship between Government and industry and will improve the work of the Department of Trade and Industry,” he said.
Last year there was a slump in new car sales as retail buyers waited for Government action after the Competition Commission prices inquiry.
It was also a pretty disastrous period for the Government which felt “badly bruised”, according to Sir Ian, as BMW said it was selling Rover, and Ford and Vauxhall prepared to end UK car production.
“There was discussion but we did not know the Government position on end-of-life regulation, climate control and so on,” he said.
The Automotive Innovation and Growth Team is a trail-blazer. The chemical industry now has a team, and there will be others. It is up to Sir Ian to set the tone. “We have to improve the depth and quality of dialogue between our industries and the Department of Industry,” said Sir Ian. “In France and Germany there is far more of a feeling of common interest between Government and industry.”
AIGT has a political element to it. Labour's heartland remains in industrial areas and the Government must have an eye on a time when it is not as popular as it is now.
Sir Ian does not think it is his role to come up with recommendations for action. “We will have failed if we come up with a report with recommendations to do things,” he said. “It is our job to stretch out the canvas for the politicians to understand where to apply the paint.
“The Government is there to fight on behalf of its industry. Once it has the understanding, it can point out to the players how they can use strategies for the benefit of the UK.”
The automotive industry in the UK was already special. It had learned a lot about working cross-functionally and in teams to push the competitiveness of organisations.
“Most other industries are still at the point of discovery that there is a whole new level of performance that they can reach,” he said.