The West Midlands has undergone something of a renaissance of late. The former industrial engine-room of our nation experienced some difficult times in the latter part of the last century; from the closures of long-established manufacturing plants to the decline of historic names in the British automotive industry.
Recently, however, the West Midlands has begun to re-establish itself as a leader in automotive manufacturing once more.
The region has been named an official Low Carbon Economic Area, into which £19m will be invested for the research and development of low-carbon vehicle technology. The money from the government’s regional development agency, and the European Community, will fund various joint research projects. The West Midlands is now increasingly acknowledged as a hub for innovation in the automotive sector, particularly in eco-friendly, low-carbon, sustainable production.
Why the West-Midlands?
There are a number of reasons, foremost among them is the rich industrial heritage of the area. This is more than simple nostalgia; the West-Midlands has the existing infrastructure, as well as a highly skilled workforce, that are ideally suited to realising the vision behind this initiative.
As a region, the West-Midlands has been recognised as a centre for excellence and expertise in engineering since the industrial revolution. Personnel with the knowledge and experience required to bring genuinely innovative designs to life are not easily come by in large numbers, and the space, facilities and transport links that are counted on to support a programme of such scope are equally rare. The West-Midlands is more than capable of providing both.
The new drive towards fuel efficient cars and low carbon production should secure existing mechanical engineering jobs as well as creating new and sustainable avenues for the engineers of tomorrow.
Research is driving innovation
Educational institutions in the area have proven to be crucial in making the research possible in the first place. The Universities of Warwick and of Coventry are both actively researching the technologies and future innovations that will form the basis of ongoing efforts to shift towards low-carbon, sustainable solutions, as well as the implications of the applying such technology. This research is fuelling new developments in the automotive field.
Investment in research is not limited to the region’s universities; Jaguar Land Rover, a huge presence in the West-Midlands, have also announced plans to invest further in research and development of low-carbon technology to the tune of £340m.
With such a huge player throwing their not-insignificant weight behind this, it’s clear that they too see why the West-Midlands is the ideal place from which to continue the move towards low-carbon technology.
The innovative capacity of UK automotive engineering and, in particular, the West-Midlands, is strong and there are a significant number of high value design and engineering businesses in the region. Thus, despite many changes, the West-Midlands has maintained its position as a major vehicle producer and will continue to do so with the transition from industrial heartland to innovation centre.