Investment in research and development is key to the prosperity of the region and to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, a top engineering boss at Jaguar Land Rover said yesterday.
Speaking at the Prosperity Through Science event at Millennium Point, JLR group engineering director Bob Joyce told academics, industrialists and politicians that it was vital to continue to invest in research and development despite the economic downturn.
Also speaking at the event were Professor Adrian Smith, director-general of Science and Research at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), Professor Julia King CBE, vice-chancellor Aston University and Eric Schulz, president of Goodrich Actuation Systems.
Mr Joyce used the example of the Dynamic Response System, which cost £8.5 million to develop, as a key sales success for the Range Rover Sport which subsequently contributed significantly to annual profits.
“Technology is the ‘hidden’ feature that provides customer delight and creates on-going profits for JLR and our partners,” Mr Joyce said. “This is one example of how investment in science and technology can benefit the national and regional economy, while enhancing products and delivering profits. Applying the same approach will allow us to achieve reduced CO2 emissions in future products.”
The event was hosted by CBI West Midlands and Advantage West Midlands (AWM), in association with JLR, and was chaired by Norman Price OBE, chair of the Birmingham Science City Partnership Board. Birmingham Science City brings together a coalition of the public sector, business, the research base and the community to drive the application of science and become a vital force in economic regeneration.
Professor King spoke of the wealth of low-carbon technology initiatives in the city, including the combined heat and power scheme in Broad Street which is being extended into the Eastside area. She also outlined Birmingham’s bid to become a key location for electric and other low-carbon vehicle technologies under a government scheme to establish the UK as a “testbed” for low carbon automotive developments.
Mick Laverty, chief executive of AWM, said: “Innovation is absolutely key to driving forward the West Midlands economy. Birmingham Science City is about demonstrating how science and technology in the region’s universities can be applied to improve the products and productivity of our businesses and ultimately improve the quality of life for people. We are working hard to address the effects on the region of the global downturn, particularly through the work of the West Midlands Taskforce.”
Mr Laverty said AWM was investing heavily in the Low Carbon Vehicles Platform, a scheme set to deliver carbon reduction in vehicle markets and accelerate introduction of low carbon vehicles.
“We are also investing heavily in R&D facilities – including energy technologies – at Birmingham and Warwick Universities, to create the technologies and skills required to enable business to globally compete. Working with the CBI will help to connect these initiatives with the business community.”
CBI regional director Chris Clifford warned that complacency with regard to investing in R&D could mean the UK loses jobs to other countries. He also called for more young people to study science at school in order to meet demand for skilled engineers. “Science and engineering are at the heart of everything we do – from low-carbon technological development to new manufacturing processes and products, and we must not lose sight of the need for continued investment in the science and engineering base,” he said. “We need to be aware of new opportunities which will arise when the upturn comes.
“For many companies, this will require investment in research and development, even as finances become tighter. The R&D tax credit is working well but complacency now could drive high-value jobs and new growth overseas.
“More young people need to take triple science to stimulate the supply chain of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills. Triple science is the best foundation to further scientific study and an interesting, well-paid STEM career, and demand for STEM-skilled employees, is set to increase.”