Does Britain stand a chance of being the world leader in Electric Vehicle technology?

Electric vehicles (EVs) have seen a surge in popularity in the UK over the past few years. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) recently reported that the sale of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric cars made up 8% of the overall market last month. Last month 7,489 electric and alternative fuel vehicles were sold, up from 3,968 sold in August of last year. This trend has picked up pace through a combination of increasing environmentalism in the British zeitgeist and rapidly rising fuel prices – both diesel and petrol have seen rises of 13p per litre since this time last year.

The UK is currently one of the world leaders in the development of EV technology, with automotive giants Rolls Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin and Nissan all developing or producing electric vehicles in the UK. Smaller firms such as Alcraft and Avid are rapidly expanding too, with the latter recently making a bid to expand into the North American market with its strong history in electrification and hybridisation and innovative battery technology. Another potential key player in the UK EV market is home appliance engineering firm Dyson. The British firm has recently unveiled plans for a 10 mile test track in Wiltshire ahead of its plan to start selling its ‘radical’ electric car by 2021.

The UK’s prominence in the EV sector is set to be challenged, however, both by the rise of the EV in the USA and China, and the impending uncertainty of Brexit. Tesla and CEO Elon Musk have come to represent the face of the electric vehicle sector, with the Californian engineering company representing a plurality of the mindshare of the British public. This popularity is not a certainty, however, as recent events have exposed the fragility of Tesla’s marketing strategy. By placing all of their brand on Elon Musk, Musk’s personal feuds with everyone from Warren Buffet to Azealia Banks to a British diver have direct impacts on Tesla’s stock prices – Tesla share prices have dropped by 20% over the past month alone.

Tesla’s share prices don’t seem to be affecting the world’s largest EV market though. Of the 3m electric vehicles worldwide, two-thirds are manufactured and sold in China. Electric and other non-petrol vehicle production in China has risen to 500,000 in the first half of this year, with no signs of stopping, but the next steps are crucial to the future of the EV. Despite the secretive nature of Chinese politics, analysts are speculating a tightening of regulations surrounding traditional automobiles, stemming from the large rise of car ownership in the region and the ensuing pollution in major cities. Chinese authorities may bring in laws taxing or prohibiting internal combustion engines in large cities, and trial programs have already been experimenting with incentives and restrictions to force EV take-up across the country.

The oncoming uncertainty surrounding Brexit has been another factor in the UK EV market. Leading firms such as Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan have warned that they may have to move development and production of new models to mainland Europe in order to stay profitable in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Evidence of Brexit’s impact on Jaguar Land Rover can already be seen in the recent news that it has placed its Castle Bromwich production plant on a three day work week. The loss of such a huge player in the UK automotive space will have implications throughout its supply chain and will likely lead to other large brands doing the same. This would have disastrous consequences for the UK’s standing in the EV space.

A large part of Jaguar Land Rover’s decision making process will lie in the availability of qualified engineers in the UK. Brexit has made a lot of EU engineers second guess moving to the UK amid concerns that they will be forced out of the country after 29th March 2019. The governments exact policy on European residents remains to be seen, but with a large portion of the specialised engineers in the UK being European, Brexit is sure to affect EV development in the UK.

There is an acknowledged shortage of top class power electronics engineers in the UK, particularly with respect to motor/electrical machine design. The number of top tier universities offering high-calibre further education in this field is low – even lower still is the amount of engineers pursuing this route. EU countries such as Italy and Germany boast a thriving automotive market supported by high class University programmes, while non-EU countries such as Iran and China offer prominent degrees with a focus on electrical machine design. China in particular has made a concentrated effort to source the top talent in power electronics from abroad. Indeed, various leading wide band gap semiconductor (GaN and SiC) companies in China were founded by Chinese power electronics experts who had studied or worked in Japan, the US or Europe. Visa regulations will therefore have a critical impact on both those working in academia and in industry, increasing the risk of missing out on the best talent.

If you are a candidate with experience in Power Electronics or a company looking to identify top talent, please contact Rory Brandt by emailing rory.brandt@jacksonhogg.com or by calling 07930960779.

Jackson Hogg is a recruitment company specialising in recruiting for the engineering, manufacturing and technology sectors. Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, Jackson Hogg has a proven track record of placing world class engineers in world class companies both in the North East and further afield.

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