UK needs to invest in supply chain as manufacturers chase electric dreams

14 March 2018

14 March 2018

The UK must repurpose car parts factories and prepare both them and workers to build components for electric vehicles (EVs) to avoid job losses, the country’s Unite union has said.

While Germany’s Government is supporting the automotive supply chain market, Unite is fearful that the rise of electrification will mean traditional parts being built in Britain will fall by the wayside and instead, manufacturers with plants in the country will source components from abroad. It calls on government to ′support supply chain companies to invest, re-tool and upskill’ for new products.

A report issued by the union suggests that a number of the 30,000 components that make up a vehicle will change or be made redundant by EV technology. This impact needs to be mapped to ensure that companies can adapt and change rather than close, risking jobs and hitting the UK economy.

General Secretary of Unite, Len McKlusky, said: ′No industry is static. The emergence of electric, internet-connected and driverless technology, herald changes unseen since the end of the horse-drawn era. We want investment in new sustainable technology. We want to see high-skilled secure jobs on decent pay and for the UK automotive sector to hold its own against Germany, the United States, Southern Asia and China.’

Recent figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed that 1.67 million vehicles were produced in the UK during 2017, down 3% compared to the previous year. In addition, a record 2.72 million engines were also produced, with many of them exported.

Vehicle manufacturers are increasingly turning to electric technology to combat rising CO2 figures across their sold fleets, as a result of the collapse of diesel markets across Europe. With high financial penalties likely for a number of companies due to missing targets by 2021, EVs represent the best current technology to stabilise pollution levels as attempts are made to offer a new alternative to petrol.

Electric cars already have fewer moving parts than traditional vehicles, however with much of the UK automotive industry focused on supply, recent developments have highlighted how behind the country is when it comes to electric technology. While BMW has chosen its Oxford plant to build the new electric Mini, batteries and powertrains will be imported from Germany.

Jaguar Land Rover has said it wants to build electric cars in the UK, but has said doing so will need additional energy infrastructure and land for a new plant. The company has already chosen to outsource manufacturing of its first electric model, the Jaguar I-Pace, to Magna in Austria.

Unite has also called on Ford to invest in its diesel engine plants at Dagenham and Bridgend, both of which are under threat due to the falling demand of the technology. The union believes the company could safeguard jobs by retooling the plants for electric and hybrid powertrain development.

′Ford should copy the example set by Toyota, which invested £7m into hybrid engine technology at the firm’s engine plant in Deeside, North Wales,’ the union said in its report.

The UK government has already sought to drive development in the sector, pledging £246 million (€281 million) to help build new battery technology. A national battery prototyping centre is also planned in Warwick.