Small firms to lead green vehicles development

Posted on 2 Feb 2011 by The Manufacturer

Smaller, more nimble companies will drive the shift towards low carbon vehicles, figures from the automotive industry suggest.

Speaking at a recent Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) Low Carbon Vehicle Event, representatives from Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, MIRA, Lotus Engineering, the Office of Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV), Unipart and Tata discussed topics ranging from greening the supply chain to technological developments.

The opportunities open to businesses were highlighted, with light-weighting, recyclability, battery and charging innovation, hydrogen and cross-industry collaboration being cited as key areas of interest to the automotive industry.

It is not just traditional supply chains that OEMs are looking to for solutions.

Nick Fell, vice president of engineering at Tata Motors European Technical Centre, said: “Low carbon vehicles are essential for sustainable mobility. At Tata we’re implementing a multi-pronged approach using a variety of technologies that are tailored to the differing demands of private, public and commercial vehicles. It is clear to me that small and agile companies – like those supported by MAS – are likely to come up with the cost-effective and energy-efficient solutions that organisations like ourselves are looking for.”

This opinion was supported by top tier suppliers. Richard Bruges, head of innovation at Unipart Logistics, said: “The companies that will do well out of the developing low carbon vehicle market are those that are creating new and innovative products. The problem they face is in then bridging the credibility gap in order to meet the needs, and get the attention of, OEMs and first tier suppliers.”

MAS national network manager, Neale Ryan, said: “Low carbon vehicles represent a significant market opportunity for a variety of SME manufacturers – from innovative businesses with original ideas and IP surrounding advanced technologies, to existing electrical or mechanical product manufacturers with transferable products. Not forgetting those established automotive components companies capable of supplying parts that are common to vehicles regardless of whether they use electrical, hydrogen or hybrid propulsion.”

Also attending the event were representatives from two highly innovative companies, Flybrid Systems and Antonov Plc, present to share their experiences in developing next generation technologies.

“One of the main things for us is ensuring the technology we develop is protected,” said Doug Cross, technical director at Flybrid Systems, a company that has developed a flywheel energy regeneration and storage system. “My advice to other emerging companies is don’t go overboard on securing IP protection, keeping some things as know-how is one of the key ways for innovative companies not only to reduce additional costs, but also to retain value within the business.”

Antonov has created a three speed power-shift transmission for electric vehicles. David Paul, business development manager at Antonov, commented: “We are experiencing phenomenal demand for the product and see huge market potential, especially in the commercial vehicle fleet and public transport sectors where the cost of ownership makes EVs attractive even without subsidy.”

Neale adds: “MAS can assist these businesses in several ways, from helping navigate the administrative process surrounding grants to product adaptation and new market entry – as well as core services that can help them enact productivity and operational improvements. All of which have a direct effect on the bottom line and can reduce their operations environmental impact.”