The University of Warwick – home of Warwick Manufacturing Group – has won the latest round in the battle for research supremacy in the region after Jaguar Land Rover announced it would be the new home for its advanced research group.
The luxury carmaker – owned by Indian conglomerate Tata – plans to spend £100million on research at the International Digital Laboratory, which is part of WMG.
The company already has 30 engineers and designers at the lab and will move another 140 from its research base at Gaydon.
The move comes amid increasing pressure on WMG after the go-ahead was given for the new Manufacturing Technology Centre at Ansty in Coventry, which is currently under construction and is set to receive a £17.3million grant from Advantage West Midlands next year.
The Coventry operation is set to be headed up by Clive Hickman – the former head of Tata’s Technology Centre at the University of Warwick which is separate to WMG – he is being joined on the board by Alex Stephenson, first chairman of Advantage West Midlands and brother of the Phoenix Four’s Nick Stephenson, and former Land Rover executive Terry Morgan who may become part-time chairman.
Dr Ken Young is moving from WMG as technical director.
MTC is being funded by AWM and the government with around £200 million being invested into the venture and while it is essentially a Rolls-Royce operation for research into complex welding and aero engines, those behind it are keen to attract other companies – particularly from the automotive sector – so it does not appear to be a direct subsidy to Rolls-Royce.
Prior to this week’s announcement about JLR moving much of its research to WMG, it had been rumoured that the Gaydon company was going to invest £200,000 at MTC, although this now looks unlikely.
An industry source said: “AWM, the Government and Rolls-Royce want to expand it to the car companies, but the biggest car company, Jaguar Land Rover, is not really interested because it has its own research and development facilities.
“Why would JLR want to get involved in what is a backhanded subsidy to Rolls-Royce?
“These people have now been hired but the car industry side is a cover.
“There is a danger that the MTC will become a white elephant and huge sums of money could end up in the bin.”
JLR’s move to WMG is said to have been inspired by the so-called “German model” of collaboration between manufacturers and academia and follows on from the appointment of former BMW executive Ralph Speth as chief executive earlier this year, replacing David Smith.
Mr Speth said: “In Germany all the car companies are involved with a university. We need to go more in that direction in the UK. We will do all our pre-development work at Warwick, and that will be a radical change.”
Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, who founded WMG and remains a hugely influential advisor within the region’s automotive sector, added: “Our approach is to combine academic excellence with industrial relevance.
“Warwick will have a symbiotic relationship with a company that has state of the art manufacturing and that is a big contributor to UK output.”