The only ambition of many British automotive supply chain companies is simply to stay in business, according to a hard hitting report from West Midland industry experts.

They are totally focused on the short-term, having neither the "resource or the strategy to develop long-term ambitions and objectives", it says.

The claim is made in a report called Vision for the UK Automotive Industry written by Brian McGinity, managing director of Skills4Auto, the Midland spoke of the national Automotive Academy, and Steve Parker, UK managing director of international automotive consultancy Ricardo who is based at Leamington Spa.

The sector's importance to the UK is highlighted by the fact that it employs about 780,000 people and delivered £8.5 billion of added value to the economy in 2004 as well as accounting for 9.5 per cent of exports and 1.1 per cent of GDP.

In West Midland terms, it represents 31.8 per cent of UK automotive employment and is worth £3.3 billion to the regional economy.

But Mr McGinity and Mr Parker say the lack of a national strategy for the automotive industry is at the heart of the country's failure to cash in fully on its engineering heritage and expertise.

Their 20-page report, based on interviews with executives at 31 companies, including Ford, Toyota, Stadco, McLaren Racing, BMW, GKN, Perkins Engines and Valeo, highlights the need to improve the training and development of automotive engineers and to encourage companies to become more innovative and step up their research and development activities.

There are two distinct automotive businesses in the UK, Japanese and non-Japanese, they say.

Japanese carmakers focus on partnerships with suppliers who are fully integrated into the engineering process.

That drives significantly increased product quality and allows suppliers to invest in a way that companies in nonpartnership relationships cannot.

Overall, the supply chain is high responsive to engineering change and has a good under-standing of best practice.

"However in the areas of strategy planning, leadership, programme management and customer care the performance of the supply chain was rated as poor," the report says.

"Long-term planning was seen at best to be several months rather than years, with over 30 per cent of firms with no business plan and fewer than 50 per cent with training plans.

"Government and eductation do not deliver basic skills and newly qualified engineers have little interest in pursuing automotive engineering careers.

"Executives say they find it hard to employ sufficiently skilled staff and businesses do not see that their remit is to train staff where education/academia has failed.

"Without addressing the failing standard of basic and business skills, how can the industry have a future?"

The supply chain sector "cannot and should not" compete with overseas competitors on price.

Instead, it has to innovate and develop specialist skills in key new areas such as fuel cell and hybrid engine technologies, control and electronics, lightweight materials, integrated telematics and congestion-charging technology.