Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya

Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, founder of WMG, the manufacturing arm of Warwick University

Driving Coventry forward

Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, founder of WMG, the manufacturing arm of Warwick University, explains why Coventry is fast-establishing itself as a world leader for electric vehicle technology…

The recent announcement of up to 10,000 new jobs with the planned creation of a national centre to develop batteries for the electric vehicles of the future is potentially a big boost for the West Midlands.

The likely place for such a centre would be Coventry and, while yet to receive formal Government go-ahead, politicians of all parties are behind the £100m project.

This is an ambitious scheme to advance the next generation of self-driving, connected and electric vehicles, and forms part of a wider aim to see Coventry become a smart motor city for the 21st century.

The proposals for the National Battery Prototype Centre, developed by WMG at the University of Warwick, and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP), were outlined at a recent gathering of industry leaders.

If the bid is successful, the Centre would become part of the Whitley South Technology Campus.

Employment will be generated by the battery research itself, battery production, subsequent manufacture of electric cars in the area, the drawing in of suppliers and consequential infrastructure development.

I see a time period of two to three years – certainly the aim is that by 2020 it will be reaching the levels envisaged.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street is spearheading the presentation of our case to the government and has described the region as being a "compelling choice” for the Centre.

All too often, in the past, others have taken UK research to the next level like the Americans, the Chinese and the Koreans. The target today, as part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy, is to bring this research from the laboratory to the market place.

The idea is to invite interested parties to use the centre for testing new technology – we can do this because the facilities would not be wedded to any particular company. This is far more than just work in a laboratory – it is about testing in manufacturing conditions.

Why Coventry?

At one time all the big industry names were in Coventry – Austin Rover, Standard Triumph, BSA and many others. Much of that was lost. However, Jaguar Land Rover has made an impact in recent years and Coventry now remains at the centre of the automotive sector.

We want to see the city back at the forefront of developing the cars of the future.

We have a golden opportunity to reinvent ourselves as the global centre for self-driving, connected and electric vehicles. This Centre will serve as a springboard for the continuing growth of automotive manufacturing in Coventry but the benefits will be felt across the region, the country and around the world.

The National Battery Prototype Centre will help the West Midlands lead the way in the production of electric vehicles, building on the highest level of investment in automotive research innovation in the country and an extensive supplier base.

Professor Dr Ralf Speth, chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, has already said he wants to build electric models in the UK and what better than a central location at the heart of the automotive industry.

Carmakers are racing to build greener vehicles and improve charge times in a bid to meet rising customer demand and meet air quality targets.

Worldwide the environmental issue is taking a grip. Be it pollution levels in China, India, London or Birmingham, the demand for cleaner technologies will only grow. Our government is committed to improving air quality and reducing pollution in towns and cities – essential for people’s health and the environment. Everywhere there is pressure to go non-toxic. There are issues – battery charge times and vehicle performance among them – but these will be overcome.

We intend that this Centre makes a difference in terms of driver information, connectivity and encourages a natural migration to autonomous vehicles. It will take time to get there but that is the aspiration.

And we are pushing at an open door, building on what already exists.

  • The Advanced Propulsion Centre is a £1bn, 10-year programme to position the UK as a global centre of excellence for low carbon powertrain development and production. It was formed in 2013 in a joint commitment by government and the automotive industry, through the Automotive Council. It is delivered through a small team working across the UK from a central Hub located at the University of Warwick and regional Spoke locations.
  • The Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) is a joint unit of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Transport. CCAV is a single point of contact for those in industry, academia and internationally set up to keep the UK at the forefront of the development of connected and autonomous vehicle technology.
  • Our Energy Innovation Centre at WMG is a national facility for battery research across the R&D process from materials and electrochemistry through to application integration and recycling/re-use.

Through the launch of the Industrial Strategy Green Paper and the Plan for Britain, the Government has significantly increased investment in research and development and reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring the UK remains a world-leader in science and innovation ahead of the UK leaving the EU. This year it will be publishing its long term strategy for the UK’s transition to zero emission vehicles.

Business and energy secretary Greg Clark has pledged: “Low carbon and driverless cars are the future and as a government we are determined through the Industrial Strategy to build on our strengths and put the UK at the forefront of this revolution. Investment in this technology is an integral part of this government’s efforts, to ensure the UK auto sector remains competitive and world-leading.”

I am confident the proposed National Battery Prototype Centre can play a big part in achieving that goal.