Advanced manufacturing and world-class design are key to fixing Britain's economy, according to the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover.
Ralf Speth said despite a “chronic shortage” of people going into science and engineering in the UK, manufacturing should be at the heart of British industry and could help to cure its “economic ills”.
Speaking at a dinner at Birmingham City Council House during a three-day conference organised by the British American Business Council, he added that design, innovation and research and development would be critical for the success of the UK and the US.
“These value-creating advanced processes enable the company to adapt and to change as customer needs adapt and change,” said Dr Speth.
“The integration of technology, business, environmental and social best practice is vital in order for manufacturing companies to deliver to the customer today and deliver to the customer tomorrow.
“In certain sectors Britain is very good at this – defence, pharmaceutical and automotive – but it’s an area where it can learn lessons from abroad and in particular from the US.
“The technological revolution that has come out of the US is no accident.
“At JLR we have a very ambitious programme to develop about 40 new products over the next five years.
“This year alone we will invest around £3 billion in the product creation process, making JLR the UK’s largest automotive research and development investor.
“There’s no better way of reindustrialising than through manufacturing.”
He added that Jaguar Land Rover’s recovery was “proof that Britain still has the advanced manufacturing base that can compete on the world stage”.
The US is the second biggest market for Jaguar and the third biggest for Land Rover.
Mr Speth said the British government has been at the forefront of global free trade agreements, but that there is still a great deal of regulation between the US and Europe.
“There are so many different systems and this complexity adds input and production costs,” he said.
“The cost of complexity is passed onto the consumer. That harms the operation and the marketplace. If removed the benefit would be an uplift in trade and improved exports. An FDA agreement would add about half a per cent to US and European GDP overnight.”
The other keynote speaker, Business Secretary Vince Cable, presented a robust defence against euro sceptics at the dinner attended by 300 delegates from the US and UK.
He said one of the compelling reasons to stay in the EU was that the UK hosts more foreign companies than France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands combined.
Referring to Lord Lawson being among the senior political figures calling for Britain’s withdrawal, he said that the EU was where it is because of the “enormous clout” it wields and it was “inconceivable” that Britain would have the same influence on its own.
“There would be, potentially, a blow to business confidence,” he said.
“Many of you know as you’re in business that confidence is fragile. So even before we start looking at the detail we have that potential shock to confidence of just opening up this whole debate all over again.”
Dr Cable added that the EU should not be blamed for creating the red tape hindering British business. “Much regulation has not been created by Brussels – it’s largely what we have done ourselves,” he said.
He praised Jaguar Land Rover, saying they had “created 9,000 additional jobs in the past two years and have continued to invest here, and they will be doing more.”