Government should only support Jaguar Land Rover if it adopts a revolutionary, greener approach to car production, a leading Birmingham academic has said.
Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University, labelled JLR as conservative and “behind the curve” on environmental technology.
She called on the firm’s management to be “brave” and speed up the development of new fuel-efficient vehicles.
She also urged government to make environmental performance key to any financial help it offered JLR.
Professor King is part of the government’s committee on climate change and the author of the King Review of Low-Carbon Cars which examines how carbon emissions can be reduced through the development of cleaner fuels.
She said: “The closure of JLR would be hugely depressing for the region and I don’t want to see the government walk away from this company.
“But I fear for the future of firms like JLR who do not accept the message about climate change.
“Perhaps now, amidst this crisis, there is an opportunity for change and for JLR to start taking some radical steps forward.”
In an exclusive interview with the Birmingham Post yesterday, JLR chief executive David Smith said the firm was investing in environmental programmes.
But Professor King insisted JLR trailed well behind some of its European and Japanese rivals.
She said: “JLR are lagging behind in the development of environmental technologies.
“They are still focused on building conventional, large, luxury cars.
“Yes they are moving in the direction of lower emissions, but they are not doing it fast enough.
“I understand it would be difficult for JLR to abandon their current development plans, but the management need to be brave and take that decision.
“They must trust their engineers who I am sure have the talent to deliver the radical solutions that are needed to meet the challenge of climate change.”
Professor King, a former engineer at Rolls-Royce, said she wanted government to ensure JLR focused on improving its environmental programme.
She said: “I would like to see the government encourage JLR to push forward their hybrid engine programme, whether that is by funding or by stimulating the market for these cars.”
Professor King added the current downturn should be no excuse for Britain to neglect the development of new low-carbon technologies.
She said: “There is a real concern we might take our eye off the ball because of the other economic challenges that are facing us but we have to be focused even in the midst of a financial downturn.
“We must make sure the low-carbon vehicle roll-out is driven forward as it will mean companies like Jaguar Land Rover will come out of this economic situation better than their competitors.
“They can take this agenda forward and preserve the skill base of the West Midlands which should be cherished.
“If this happens we will have a company that is ahead of the game when the economic market changes again so this is the chance to help them move forward.”
JLR could also benefit from a £100 million investment package if it stepped up its development of green vehicles, Professor King has said.
In October, transport secretary Geoff Hoon announced a series of funds aimed at promoting low-carbon vehicles.
This includes plans to supply 100 electric cars to towns and cities across the UK.
Motor manufacturers can also bid to be part of a £10?million project to run electric car and ultra-low carbon vehicle projects and for a £20?million fund to make electric and green technology more affordable.
The package of funds also includes £30?million from regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.
Professor King said she was disappointed that no UK vehicle manufacturers were significantly benefitting from the new funds.
She said: “At the moment not one UK vehicle manufacturer is benefitting from this money because they do not have the technology or the programmes to bid.
“It would be great to see JLR develop the capacity to make use of these funds.”
Professor King said that “plug-in” hybrid cars that run on both electricity and petrol could benefit from the programme.
She said: “I don’t expect JLR will be making purely electrical cars any time soon, but they could be providing plug-in hybrid vehicles designed for longer journeys.”
By offering grants and funding to develop such technology could be another way the government could help support JLR through the economic downturn, Professor King added.