Sunday 16 March 2014

Electric and not-so-electric.

It has been an extraordinary and confusing week in the UK. Liberal Democrats have vowed to ban diesel and gasoline cars from 2040, yet Ford of Britain is pledged to continue making gasoline and diesel engines.

The Lib Dem policy paper – Green growth and green jobs – sets outs the political party’s ideal manifesto. In it the party’s activists suggest ‘Liberal democrats would specify that by 2040, only ultra-low carbon vehicles will be permitted on UK roads for non-freight purposes. If technology permitted, we would bring forward this date.’

A Lib Dem spokesman said: “It is not beyond reasonable ambition to suggest the industry can adapt to a zero-emission target within the next 25 years. Companies need the incentive to change.”

Interestingly, in the same week, on Friday last, Lib Dem leader and the UK’s deputy prime minister, the Rt. Hon. Nick Clegg MP, visited Nissan’s production plant in Sunderland.

Clegg was taken on a tour of the award-winning plant, currently undergoing a large extension to accommodate the introduction of the Infiniti Q30 compact premium car next year.

The extension is part of a £250 million investment by Nissan, supported with a £9.2 million grant from the UK Government through the Regional Growth Fund.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nissan’s vice president for manufacturing in the UK, said: “We were very pleased to welcome the deputy prime minister for the first time to our Sunderland Plant.”

“Preparations for Infiniti production are progressing well and we are grateful for the Government’s support in securing this new premium vehicle for the UK.”

As well as visiting the production line to see the Nissan Qashqai and the all-electric LEAF in production, Clegg was shown Nissan’s new electric van, known as the e-NV200 as well as the Infiniti EMERG-E prototype, the brand’s first range-extended, mid-engine electric sports car.

When the Infiniti Q30 launches next year in Sunderland it will be the first time that a new car brand is starting manufacture in the UK on this scale for 23 years.

Clegg ended his visit with a Q&A session with Nissan staff in the Gateshead College Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation (SASMI), which is also home to Nissan’s only Global Training Centre outside Japan.

However, Mark Ovenden, chairman and managing director of Ford of Britain is reported as saying this week: “If you want an electric vehicle then you can have one. We do the whole range of engines up to diesels, but people still have concerns. Electric cars just have not taken off.”

He added: “There is no point in us getting behind it and losing a fortune. It’s got to be commercially viable.”

“Emission standards are only going to go one way,” he added. “So you could say that bringing out the wonderful EcoBoost engine – which is going in 40 per cent of our vehicles – has a far greater impact on the environment than a handful of electric cars.”

Ovenden rebuts any notion that Ford of Britain is not a major player in manufacturing, just because it no longer makes vehicles in the UK – Ford used to build Transit vans at Southampton until last year when the company moved production to Turkey.

“We still employ 13,500 people in Britain, we’ve got 3,500 highly trained engineers and we have the capacity to make one in three Ford engines in use across the world,” he declared.

“We are part of a global company and Britain’s role is in the design, engineering and manufacturing of low carbon technology – 40 per cent of the vehicle’s cost is the engine.”

Ford has three major manufacturing sites in the UK: Bridgend in South Wales, Dagenham for diesel engines and Halewood near Liverpool for manufacture of transmissions; as well as an R&D facility at Dunton Essex which is working on next generation diesel 1.5-litre TDCi engines for Dagenham. Although cylinder blocks, heads, crankshaft and connecting rods will be unchanged every other aspect of the engine will be new. The engine will go in B-Max, Focus and Fiesta.

Ford is investing £24 million at Bridgend for EcoBoost. Significantly, Ovenden added: “There are potential future investments for Britain, either Bridgend of Dagenham, or both, but those have to be competitive.”

Production of 1.5-litre EcoBoost engines began last year in Croavia.

On vehicles, Ovenden is keen to expand the 4x4 and sports utility sector where at present it has only the Kuga. Hence the launch of the EcoSport and the Edge models

His aim is not to move the brand upmarket but to stretch it to higher incomes and higher price points and down to lower models such as the Ka concept. Over the coming few years will be new Mondeo, the Vignale and the ‘jewel in the crown’ Mustang. 

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