The UK’s new automotive innovation centre, changes to shopping habits in Asia and Austria’s wooden market-leaders.
There isn’t much good news around for the car industry at the moment but one of the bright spots is in the UK’s Midlands region, where a new collaboration facility could slash the time it takes to get from idea to production. The £150m (€162m) National Automotive Innovation Centre (naic) near Coventry is a joint effort between the University of Warwick (where it is situated), Indian car manufacturer Tata Motors and Jaguar Land Rover (jlr).
James Billingham, Tata Motors’ project leader for the NAIC, says that the huge site was built to address the need for a world-class workspace “in an industry with the challenge of bringing in and retaining talented people”. The plan is to work on many technologies, including autonomous vehicles and connected cars that can process real-time data about road congestion and safety. The hope is that sharing space will help to develop ideas more quickly and reduce costly duplication.
The capacious, timber-roofed building was designed by London-based Cullinan Studio. Architect Roddy Langmuir sought to balance the need for private spaces alongside less formal areas to encourage collaboration – a rare thing among car manufacturers. “To get innovation, you need people to be working together,” says Langmuir. The confidential design studios are at the building’s centre, surrounded by technical labs, meeting areas, breakout spaces and a café.
A slowdown in Chinese demand for cars, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, has led to a drop in sales and supply chain issues in the country, with companies such as JLR being hit hard. But for Tata Motors, whose focus is India (the fourth largest vehicles market), it’s less of a problem. “We don’t buy directly from China and our exposure to it is quite limited,” says Billingham. “Our major mission is developing vehicles that are going to be built in India.”
NAIC is also open to new business. “We are capable of doing engineering work for third parties that are reshoring,” says Billingham, adding that this is in its early stages. All in all, it’s a bold step towards reinvigorating an industry that was seen as dying in the UK. Its location in the Midlands, the country’s historic automotive manufacturing hub, is particularly fitting. “All the skills are still there.”
As retailers and hospitality businesses struggle with restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus, it’s worth looking to Asia for a few lessons in what comes next. During the height of the outbreak in China, some shops in the southern city of Guangzhou were forced to close for a week. As soon as the shutdown ended, popular coffee shop Lock Chuck resumed serving espressos and flat whites – but with a different system.
Orders now come in via delivery app Meituan Dianping and customers are alerted when their coffee is ready to be picked up from the street-side serving window. This eliminates angst about queueing without breaking coffee-buying habits or jeopardising brand loyalty. “That way our regulars still enjoy the coffee and our greetings,” says owner Chuck Chan.
Contactless food delivery has become one of the most talked about consumer trends in China but preserving interaction – at a safe distance – is a surer way of maintaining relationships. “People are feeling comfortable to come out now and I’m so happy to see many regulars coming back,” says Chan.
Tree-covered Austria is home to four of the world’s five biggest cross-laminated timber (clt) companies. The CLT market is expected to be worth $1.5bn (€1.34bn) by 2024 thanks to the sustainable material’s handsome aesthetic, lightness and strength. So why Austria? “There’s a long history of carpentry and building with wood, alongside strong technical facilities and plenty of tree stock,” says Nic Clark, managing director of the UK branch of Austrian CLT kingpin KLH. The US or China could potentially pose a threat but, for now, KLH isn’t worried. “We’re so confident that we’re doubling existing capacity,” says Clark.