UK automotive innovation could hit big in China

Posted on 2 Mar 2017 by Jonny Williamson

Forging closer trade links with China will create significant growth opportunities for innovative UK technology businesses, according to Kieron Salter, managing director of high performance engineering solutions provider, KWSP.

Salter attended a week-long programme earlier this year to bring UK high performance engineering businesses to China and showcase automotive innovation and technology applications for new energy vehicles and intelligent mobility.

Organised by the Department for International Trade and the British Embassy, the programme centred around Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai in Eastern China.

KWSP’s Kieron Salter speaking at the recent EV100 Annual Summit – image courtesy of KWSP.
KWSP’s Kieron Salter speaking at the recent EV100 Annual Summit – image courtesy of KWSP.

As a result of the trade mission, Salter believes there is real growth potential for UK engineering companies to secure a valuable foothold in the fast-growing Chinese automotive market through collaboration with Chinese OEMs.

Visiting five automotive assembly plants and new energy vehicle forum, the EV100 Annual Summit, Salter identified demand for lightweighting, digital fabrication and battery technology, all particularly relevant to the rapidly growing new energy vehicle (NEV) market.

All three are fields in which Salter believes many UK engineering businesses have a natural competitive advantage.

He explained: “Meeting with senior leaders from so many Chinese OEMs in such a short timescale has really opened my eyes to the significant commercial opportunities that exist here for businesses such as KWSP.

“Given the chronic issue of air pollution that is now a top priority for the Chinese leadership, the rapid development of NEVs is understandable. Figures from the China State Council show that there were more than 300,000 NEVs in China in 2015, with a target for this to increase to 4 million by 2020 – all of which will need to consider lightweight structures.

“In addition, the automotive market in China is relatively new and therefore not hampered by investment in existing infrastructure and legacy technologies. They are keen to invest in new technologies to achieve their growth targets for NEVs.”

This demand aligns well with KWSP’s lightweighting capabilities. UK engineers have already developed expertise and knowledge in this area from their experience in both motorsport and the wider automotive sector.

One of the lightweighting technologies KWSP demonstrated to Chinese OEMs was ToPCaT, an innovative thermoplastic carbon chassis platform it is developing.  Compared with traditional thermoset composite chassis with their labour intensive processes, the ToPCaT innovation is a low-cost carbon alternative, with a modular manufacturing concept, scalable production methods, low cost tooling and a recyclable second life.

The thermoplastic, lightweight structure concept addresses a need in many markets, from motorsport, to road cars and logistics, for a viable, safer and cost effective option to traditional composite.