Greg Clark, the business, energy and industrial strategy secretary, has said making Britain a world-leading hub for next-generation electric vehicles will be at the heart of the government’s new industrial strategy, providing one of the clearest indications yet of the sectors it wants to focus on in a post-Brexit economy.
Clark said the automotive sector, particularly electric vehicles, driverless cars and battery storage, will be a “emblematic area of focus” and is going to be “one of the big features of the world and Britain’s industrial policy during the weeks, months and years ahead”.
The government is expected to lay out an outline of its industrial strategy in the next few weeks, with Clark saying it will publish “some directions that we want to work together [with businesses] to elaborate further”.
The senior cabinet minister was talking at a meeting of political and automotive leaders from the Midlands on Thursday evening at the University of Warwick.
At the event, Ralf Speth, the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, said his company is aiming to double its global workforce of 40,000 as it expands into electric cars and battery technology. This ambition would see the creation of 10,000 new jobs in the UK over the next few years as JLR continues its dramatic recovery since the financial crisis by opening new research and development sites.
Speth said that JLR wants to build a new electric car plant in Britain, as well as a factory that can produce batteries, but that the carmaker needs support from the government.
“We want to build our EVs (electric vehicles) in the west Midlands, in the home of our design and engineering,” Speth said. “This is clear, it goes without saying. But there is a huge problem – we don’t currently have the capacity to produce them at scale nor at speed, the costs of doing business in the UK are high compared to other countries, and alongside the access to the right skills, energy infrastructure remains the single greatest challenge to Jaguar Land Rover.”
Speth said JLR needs the equivalent of four power stations and the “right legislative framework” to develop its electric car plans, and for the fledgling industry to flourish in the UK. The company unveiled its first electric car, the I-Pace, earlier this month in Los Angeles.
The JLR boss warned Britain will lose investment to other countries, such as Germany, if the government did not act.
“This is a race ladies and gentlemen, it’s really a race and either we win or we lose. The government must be the enabler,” he said. “Our opportunity is nothing less then to lead the world in smart cities, smart economy and smart mobility.”
In response, Clark said: “This is a sector – and particularly the electric vehicles, connected autonomous vehicles, battery storage – that couldn’t be a more emblematic area of focus that the industrial strategy will back and enable.
“This is going to be one of the big features of the world and Britain’s industrial policy during the weeks, months and years ahead.
“The pace of this is quickening all the time and so is our commitment to it. This is a big moment, for a hugely important combination of sectors technologies and institutions.
“You can count completely not just on my commitment but my involvement in progressing these discussions to turn them into actions.”
Clark also described how the creation of an industrial strategy will influence government policies.
He said: “What does it mean? It means if you have an industrial strategy there is no such as a short-term strategy, it is a contradiction in terms. So it is a explicit commitment to act in terms of policies and creating institutions for the long term rather than the short. A commitment to have a industrial strategy is to act for the long term.
“It can’t be something that the government announces to an unsuspecting world, it has to be done together. It is certainly not a laissez-faire strategy, it is not ‘over to you’, this is a partnership, and that is the strategic intent.”
Clark’s comments were welcomed by local authority leaders.
Jonathan Browning, chairman of the Coventry and Warwicksire LEP, said: “The industrial strategy is in its early days but it is pleasing to see that government recognises not only the importance of the advanced manufacturing sector but also the need for us to be at the forefront of developing the automotive technologies of the future.
“Jaguar Land Rover will be leading that vanguard and has spelled out its ambitions to produce electric cars, along with the growth and investment that will bring both directly and to the regional supply chain.”
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