The car revolution in Britain

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Berlin (2010)


Climate change, emissions, government policy, low carbon vehicles


Traditionally the UK motor industry has centred round the Birmingham – Coventry –Oxford nexus with Ford in London and GM (Vauxhall) in Luton. The latter half of the last century witnessed a decline in the British owned sector of the industry and volume manufacture fell drastically, but was offset to a significant degree by Foreign Direct Investment from Japan in the guise of Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Of the traditional British firms really only Land Rover, Jaguar and Aston Martin were left.

Regardless of the decline of volume assembly, Britain still possesses a significant motor industry that employs close on 800,000 people. Moreover, it is still the main provider of British manufactured exports and has an advanced components and research base.  Such an industrial heritage and platform is poised to serve the UK economy well as the auto industry reacts to and tries to anticipate the external pressures placed upon it from the UK government and the EU as governmental authorities try to get to grips with the problems of climate change and damage to the environment. Much of this is said to emanate from automotive emissions.

This paper will explore how the UK auto industry is on the verge of a technical revolution and is being encouraged by the national governments and regional development agencies. What is transparent is that within the Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford area, considerable progress is being made is gearing the auto industry to meet the challenges it faces. In the wake of the Stern and King Reports the government has invested heavily in new technologies and in trying to create and infrastructure to support the development of hybrid and electric cars to the extent that a new cluster of specialist niche producers is gradually emerging both in the Midlands and in the North East of England around Sunderland and Newcastle with both regions vying for the leadership in developing new technologies and in the promotion of electric and similar powered vehicles.  Indeed under the aegis of the governments Technology Strategy Board a number of tests are being run in eight UK cities.  These experiments involve the government, regional development agencies, car producers and universities. In the Midlands, for example, nearly two hundred carefully selected drivers are driving a fleet of cars for one year during which their driving habits and social reaction to switching from traditionally powered to electric and hybrid cars will be monitored.

After looking the progress of the experiment to date, the paper will look at the problems inherent in persuading drivers to switch to alternatively powered  cars. In particular it will examine the potential development of the necessary infrastructure and examine the difficulties the national grid might face in providing the necessary electric power. Moreover there is the problem of gauging the growth of the market and in identifying potential buyers as well as looking at the barriers to electric car purchase from consumers who often do not understand the essential technology nor  the fact that  the initial capital cost of an electric car is higher than that of a conventionally powered one and that often valuable seating and boot space has to be sacrificed to accommodate the battery.

Essentially this will be a national study with two regions selected as key case studies.


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