Converting cars into electric vehicles, Japan’s quality-assurance badge and small German farms.
For Dave Budge, the road to turning his much-loved vintage Land Rover into an electric vehicle began with guilt. The designer was heading to the Australian outback for a camping trip but found that he couldn’t justify “pouring in hundreds of litres of diesel to get to the beautiful, natural, pristine environment”. Budge presumed that if he longed to buy an electric four-wheel drive, then other Australians did too. The numbers backed his hunch: suvs account for more than half of the country’s vehicle sales. “The electric vehicles [EVs] on the market were hatchbacks or luxury sedans,” he says. Not great for off-road adventures.
That gap in the market prompted Budge and business partner Marteen Burger to found Jaunt in 2018. In Melbourne the pair, neither of whom had an automotive background, found a pool of expertise thanks to the city’s once-vibrant car-manufacturing sector. And despite Australia’s conservative investment scene, they were able to secure financial support from start-up accelerator Energy Lab and private backers. The opportunity for scale appeared in Budge’s inbox one day, in the form of an email from Chris Hazell, founder of the UK-based Zero EV. Hazell had taken notice of what Jaunt was doing, seeing that “Australia has the right attitude to climate change” and so offered opportunity. Last year, Zero EV acquired Jaunt – a move both describe as a merger – and a new venture was formed, Fellten. Welsh for “lightning”, Fellten will draw on both firms’ expertise to make kits that allow trained mechanics to convert classic cars into EVs. The range will begin with Land Rovers, Porsche 911s and Mini Coopers, with plans to ship 150 units in the first year. “The demand is there,” says Budge.
There are four Jaunts on the road in Australia and 30 orders on a waiting list. Not a bad start, considering that conversions start at au$125,000 (€81,000) . “That’s more money than most people have ever spent on a car,” says Budge. But, he adds, the price point is competitive with luxury four-wheel-drive vehicles. “That price will come down as we deliver more.”
Even so, the goal isn’t to become the next Tesla, says Budge, adding that “conversion of cars alone is not going to save the planet”. But doing so does save about 90 per cent of the carbon emitted by building a new vehicle. As Budge says, “That makes it a very real alternative.”
Japan’s fashion manufacturers are struggling with the same hurdles as other sectors of the economy: an ageing population, labour shortages and low wages, to name just a few. But one problem – finding the money to produce and distribute clothing – is one that can be solved with better marketing, says Hisayoshi Sakurai, senior manager at Japan Apparel Fashion Industry Council (jafic). “Factories have amazing skills but traditionally they don’t come out and promote themselves,” he says. That’s changing, though. In January, jafic’s “J-Quality” initiative – a quality-assurance badge on Japanese-manufactured products – took representatives from 11 small and medium-sized Japanese fashion factories to Italy to present their collections at the Pitti Immagine Uomo trade fair in Florence. Led by Yuya Nakata, creative director of Tokyo label Postelegant, the makers produced about 100 items, showcasing specialist techniques such as indigo-dyeing and double jersey knitting, and Japan’s trade ministry sponsored the project.
And the feedback? “Very positive,” says Sakurai. An Italian designer ordered samples while a British firm asked for a collaboration. But one appearance at Pitti is only the start. “We have to think about what’s next,” says Nakata. That forward-thinking attitude explains why he asked manufacturers to send young staff to Florence. “I wanted them to have a five- to 10-year vision for the future.”
The creative director points out that support from the Japanese government is well placed; it assists an industry that will not only boost the country’s economy but also preserve its culture. “Japan has the best environment: every process can be done in one country in one language at a high level,” says Nakata. “No other country can do this.”
Working as sustainability consultant for some of Germany’s biggest food companies was an eye-opening experience for Jacob Fels. “I always had the feeling that there were real problems in terms of agriculture,” says Fels. A suspicion that there must be a more sustainable alternative to industrial farming prompted him to team up with Tobias Leiber, an agricultural policy advisor for the German parliament.
Together they founded Tiny Farms, a network of organic plots in the Brandenburg region that surrounds Berlin. Today, they have four 5,000 sq m farms within a short drive of the city, three growing vegetables and one growing flowers. “Our idea is to connect them to become one big farm in terms of doing all the administration, accounting and certification,” says Fels. The benefits include shorter supply chains and less stress on the soil than industrial methods. The work is also more attractive to young urbanites put off by the gruelling demands of conventional farming.
“Connecting these farms also means that we can attract bigger customers who need a greater amount of produce,” says Fels; today, Tiny Farms counts high-profile Berlin restaurants and organic supermarket lpg among its clientele. Fels and Leiber have also launched the Tiny Farms Academy, a part-time educational course and have opened a farm in Hamburg. “Our plan is to have 1,000 Tiny Farms throughout Germany and beyond by 2030.” Even big changes start small.
Chief economist, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
How will Ukraine’s cities eventually be rebuilt? In her role at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ebrd), Javorcik knows that money, and lots of it, will be important.
How much funding will Ukraine need to rebuild?
Last summer, we estimated that Ukraine needed $350bn [€327bn]. Since then we’ve seen more destruction. It’s clear that everything the international community and development banks do, and the aid from other countries, is not going to be enough. We’re going to need private sector participation and the ebrd can play an important role in that.
How does your bank support Ukrainian businesses?
We help to keep the lights on and the trains running. We support international trade transactions, which means imports of vital parts and pharmaceuticals, and we also provide emergency liquidity to Ukrainian businesses.
Which areas have the most growth potential?
Agriculture and agro-processing. But European firms will be looking for manufacturing suppliers in their neighbourhood, so Ukraine has the potential to become a workshop of Europe. What it lacks is institutions, and the prospect of EU accession offers an opportunity for the country to embark on an ambitious reform path.
When a major threat is identified in the “war room” at the Kudelski Group’s cybersecurity centre in Phoenix, Arizona, every second counts. Among those glued to their screens is 20-year-old Parker Horejs, who grew up playing the video game Minecraft but now builds online fortresses to keep hackers out of major corporations in the retail, financial or energy sectors. “It’s about remembering and putting into action a lot of stuff learned on the job,” says Horejs. “We’re drinking from the firehose.”
Despite four years of paid training, Horejs is still supervised by mentors as part of the Kudelski Group’s apprenticeship programme, which he began in high school. Together with fellow apprentice Noemi Caballero, he will soon graduate from it with a job all but assured. With headquarters in Cheseaux-sur-Lausanne, the firm has run domestic apprenticeships for decades but is one of a growing number of Swiss multinationals bringing the model to the US.
“In our field, you have a generation with high potential that is not well suited to the classic high school and college courses,” says group ceo André Kudelski. “I wanted to create an alternative.”
While vocational training is seen as antiquated and blue collar in college-obsessed America, in Switzerland about two thirds of students opt for an apprenticeship. They start in high school, aged 15 or 16, and choose from 230 professions via a state co-ordinated system. It’s a path taken by top ceos and former president Guy Parmelin, who started out working on a farm.
“In Switzerland this model performs well because it is driven by the needs and requirements of industry,” says Jacques Pitteloud, the country’s ambassador to the US. Apprenticeships are a crucial component of Swiss soft power: in 2021, then-president Parmelin signed a co-operation agreement with Washington and US governors visit Switzerland to see the model in action.
“In Switzerland, this model performs outstandingly because it is driven by the needs and requirements of industry”
Part of the attraction is finding an alternative to massive college debt. US companies are also facing a crisis of labour, especially in skilled manual trades: the Biden government has signed off on trillions of dollars of major infrastructure projects yet there is a shortfall of about half a million construction workers. Some US building firms are now heading into high schools to foster a new generation of talent through apprenticeships.
But what if recruits simply leave? “Former apprentices do very often come back,” says Kudelski. “Apprenticeships are all about company culture. You have to have a long-term vision.”
Noemi Caballero Rodriguez, one of the 12 apprentices currently enrolled, is set to graduate from the programme this year and says that, having grown up in a small town, simply interacting with colleagues all over the world has expanded her horizons. “It’s also made me realise how vulnerable cyberspace really is,” she says. “All it really requires to understand it is patience.”
Images: Fellten, Carla Ulrich, Getty Images
ILLUSTRATOR: Sean O'Brien