The great difference between the UK and, say, Hungary, is that the UK can design engines as well as make them. Ford’s British engines are designed and developed here and many leading engine consultancies are here – companies such as Ricardo, which makes the 3.8-litre V8 for the McLaren range.
Move to electric powertrains plays to UK's strengths
Could this advantage in engine manufacturing be undermined by electric vehicles? It seems unlikely for at least the next 15 years – no one expects internal combustion engines to be displaced in that timeframe. Hybrids are almost certain to play a bigger role, but companies such as Ricardo and Lotus Engineering are also leaders in hybrid technology.
A recent example of Britain’s prominence in hybrids came from Zytek, the company best known for motorsports since its days of providing ECUs for Formula One engines. It has signed a deal to provide the electric powertrain for the forthcoming Yamaha Motiv-e city car. The idea of a British company supplying electronics to a Japanese company would have seemed laughable 20 years ago.
In fact, the growing complexity of powertrains plays to Britain’s strengths. After all, most Formula One teams are based here, so there is a lot of expertise in KERS-type regenerative propulsion systems and a lot of consultancies and academic institutions investing in basic research.
Government and industry are jointly investing £1 billion in the Advanced Propulsion Centre over the next 10 years to develop future powertrains. The hope is that Britain can keep growing its share of powertrain manufacturing through the impending electrification of the car.
The perfect location for high-technology manufacturing would be a country that combined very high skills with very low costs. By Western standards, Britain does have above average skills and below average costs. Thankfully, unlike the 1960s, when the successful façade of the motor industry hid an inward-looking culture of complacency, both manufacturers and government understand what needs to be done.