One of the manufacturing myths common in the UK is that nobody builds anything any longer – it’s popular to suggest that the UK used to manufacture products such as cars, but today that business has all vanished. However the numbers make the situation look rather different. Last year around 1.6m cars were manufactured in the UK, which was the highest figure for a decade.
But 2016 brought the Brexit vote and some potential changes to the auto manufacturing industry in the UK. The recruitment company DHR has suggested that auto manufacturers are shifting high-end work such as research and development over to Eastern Europe. Their data is supported by the news that companies such as Jaguar, Audi, and Renault have all recently invested in Eastern European expansion plans.
However, I believe there is more at play here than just the Brexit vote changing how cars are designed and manufactured. What we think of today as a car is changing faster than ever and the research function is about more than developing the next generation of sound system. The entire auto industry is being redefined around technology and the car makers that get this right will win a substantial market share.
There are three areas where I think technological research is redefining the entire auto industry and this summarises why the locations where the R&D take place will be at the heart of planning the future of this industry.
1. Electric vehicles; Tesla has shown that electric vehicles can be popular, but the price is still out of reach for regular consumers. As the regular brands invest more in R&D and battery design we will see an enormous change in this market.
2. Internet of things; cars just becoming a part of your home network will be normal. This will allow cars to self-diagnose problems and talk to the manufacturer without the owner being involved in addition to synchronising to your home – perhaps something as simple as playing the last song you had on in the house when you start the vehicle.
3. Self driving cars; we have seen that it is mainly tech companies that seem to be progressing in this space, but if the mainstream auto brands want to define the future then they need to also be investing in this space.
All this shows that the future of the car industry looks more like the technology industry with integration into networks, the Internet of Things, new battery technologies, and the ability to function without human interaction. There will be a strong crossover between the IT business and the auto business in the near future and it looks like a lot of this work will be taking place in Eastern Europe.