Innovation driving forward UK smart car industry

In June the UK Government announced £12 million worth of funding for ‘ground-breaking’ research into zero emissions transport, including electric vehicle charging.

15 September 2020

Conversion from petrol to electric cars

The UK is on its way to becoming a world leader in the burgeoning electric and autonomous vehicle sector. While much of the manufacturing capacity is situated in other parts of the globe, Britain is developing a strong reputation as an innovation centre for design, technology, testing and other aspects of the supply chain for the vehicles of the future.

In June the UK Government announced £12 million worth of funding for ‘ground-breaking’ research into zero emissions transport, including electric vehicle charging. According to Allied Market Research, the global electric vehicle market size is expected to reach $802 (USD) billion by 2027, a compounded annual growth rate of more than 22 percent.

ABGI UK works closely with a number of businesses focused on the vehicles of the future helping them secure government support available to incentivise research and development and drive forward new innovations.

Carsten Astheimer, Creative Director and Founder of Astheimer, is one such client. He says there’s been a lot of investment and interest in developing autonomous features in cars.

“While it may take several decades before we see driverless cars commonly operating on our streets without human supervision required, we’re currently making good progress on ‘Level 3’ developments which include automated functions in vehicles such as windscreen wipers and headlights,” says Carsten.

“I would initially expect to see fully autonomous vehicles gaining traction for commercial use in large depots, for example, or in off road environments,” he says. “Compared with those operated by human workers, autonomous vehicles could provide a safer and more efficient option in controlled commercial environments.”

Based in Warwick, Astheimer works with a number of software providers and manufacturers to provide ergonomic design solutions for mechanical and technology components. Innovation is key in this industry and, here in the UK, the Government has targeted investment into research and development through a number of grants and incentives including R&D tax relief.

While he feels R&D tax relief has a limited impact in determining the volume of investment into the modern vehicle industry, Carsten says it has been a help for many businesses aspiring to be world class. “Along with R&D tax relief, there are also a number of other funding streams available to support the UK industry,” he says.

This view is supported by Peter Atalla, founder of digital mapping company Navmii. “While the US leads the way as the place to generate capital for companies within the electric and autonomous vehicle sector, the incentives on offer in the UK are far more generous,” says Peter. “Thanks in part to the support we’ve had from ABGI UK, we’ve found that accessing R&D tax relief and other incentive measures has been a seamless process.”

Originally based in the UK, Peter relocated to San Francisco to launch spin off company Voxel Maps, which is focused on building a true 4D volumetric model of the planet. “The US is currently the place to be in terms of attracting investment for this industry although the UK benefits from a strong talent pool, especially via Oxford and Cambridge,” he says. “What we now need to see is the development of a bigger cluster of likeminded British-based companies and further creative tax incentives, such as those currently on offer in Portugal to entice entrepreneurs.”

Cambridge-based Applus IDIADA is another emerging success story. The company, which provides design, engineering, testing and homologation services for the wider automotive sector, has been significantly increasing its focus on electric and autonomous vehicle market where there is a constant drive towards new innovation.

David Price, Innovation Manager at IDIADA believes the creation of the Automotive Council in 2009, set up to enhance dialogue and strengthen co-operation between UK government and the automotive sector, has been a game-changer. “The creation of the Council has been a huge positive,” says David. “It’s opened new funding streams to help take forward the electric and autonomous vehicle industry including grants to help us develop much-needed testing facilities.”

In March IDIADA completed the Multi-Car Collision Avoidance project, a £4.6m, 30-month initiative funded by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles via Innovate UK. The project focused on developing a next-generation driver aid that aims to avoid or minimise the consequences of multi-car collisions on motorways.

The company is now concentrating its attention on a new £8m project to create a test site for the automotive and mobility industries to aid the development and testing of electric and autonomous vehicles.

ABGI UK works with IDIADA on their applications for R&D tax relief and other incentives. “They’ve been very hands-on in advising us how to tailor our R&D focus to ensure this fits within the UK rules,” says David. “While making a claim can involve a high level of paperwork, there are a lot of generous Government-backed incentive measures which are really helping the sector thrive.”

As the UK faces a challenging economic future, its electric and autonomous vehicle sector has the potential to become world class. At a time where public resources are being increasingly stretched, maintaining grants and innovation incentives through the tax system will be crucial in ensuring the industry can fulfil this ambition.