Automotive sector

Paul Sheerin: Major opportunity for players in the automotive sector

My interest over the past few weeks has been drawn to one of the areas of manufacturing hardest hit by the impact of Covid, our automotive sector.

Even before the pandemic, he felt consumer uncertainty caused by economic jitters, along with a sense that hydrocarbon-powered vehicles might not be the future, had combined to significantly slow this industry.

Despite these challenges, in 2020 our automotive industry generated

£60bn in turnover for the UK, of which over £40bn was exported – around 13% of our total – and over 150,000 people were directly employed in the manufacturing of the sector.

It’s no wonder it’s rightly recognized for its significant importance to the UK economy, and not just in those numbers, but also for the wider benefits it brings. Its highly automated and digital manufacturing sets an ambitious bar for other manufacturing, and the research and innovation that the public associates with British motorsport is actually also present, from buses to garbage trucks.

At present, the sector is a perfect case study of the current predicament of most UK manufacturers: strong demand combined with multiple supply constraints that make it extremely difficult to fill these orders.

The effects are clear, with wait times for fairly standard new vehicles on par with what one would have previously expected for the rarest or most exotic machines, and used values ​​have increased. In all areas.

The scarcity of semiconductors ranks first in the list of reasons, and other specialized and less special materials are also part of the shortage chart.

Accelerating the shift in the fuel that powers our vehicles is key to this demand in the consumer market, while the broader decarbonization goals of utilities and private companies are accelerating the pace of change for commercial vehicles.

So, despite the public perception that the industry’s best days are over, there is cause for optimism once we get past the current problems on the supply side, and that opportunity extends to the market as well. ‘Scotland.

While one would have to go back to Linwood in 1981 for mass car manufacturing, there are excellent examples of sectoral production in the supply of commercial vehicles and automotive components.

With the joy of getting out to see real people, I recently visited James A. Cuthbertson Ltd, based in Biggar, who are a highly respected manufacturer of winter maintenance equipment (snow plows and spreaders for you and me) for over 75 years and are skilled in ensuring that their equipment integrates seamlessly with the base truck around which their system is built.

Well known for their reliable and durable approach, they have taken on a new challenge with the aim of delivering the UK’s first alternative fuel winter service vehicle, partnering with Ulemco Ltd to convert a standard lorry chassis into a system dual hydrogen fuel. The technology employed allows on-board hydrogen to be directly mixed with existing fuel in the standard engine, displacing between 30% and 70% of the energy required from diesel (with the resulting reduction in emissions), while ensuring that such a safety-critical vehicle can operate even if no hydrogen is available.

With this first example finally delivered to Glasgow City Council, the program has been extended to deliver the UK’s first major fleet of 20 hydrogen-converted winter maintenance vehicles to Glasgow, and the opportunity is now that Cuthbertson has an established delivery partnership for a well-developed technology to commercially expand their business.

A short trip up the M74 to Larkhall brings us to a very different and important player in the sector’s supply chain, Xandor Automotive. Operating from their current location for over 30 years, they are a prime example of sourcing high-volume, high-value components through near-constant investment in Industry 4.0-grade automation for complex molding processes. and coating.

Their products serve a customer base of high-end car and SUV (sport utility vehicle) manufacturers, with exterior castings leaving the factory in the exact tint and finish color to attach directly to the vehicles they are intended for. , with sensors already installed. and ready to plug in. I recently visited them to see how far they have come, making the most of low demand shutdown times to reinvent their production facility for even greater efficiency.

What I saw was impressive throughout, but an investment of almost £3million in robotic hot stamping for super sleek finishes on the exterior parts was remarkable. With the growing demand for electric vehicles on which their products fit, their staff of over 200 skilled manufacturing roles and support professionals faces a welcome and busy future outlook.

These are just two great examples of a sector little recognized publicly in Scotland, industrial operations quietly getting along with quality manufacturing that we pass on our way up and down the M74, and they are certainly not the only examples in Scotland. We have a good mix of large to small, components to finished vehicles, and commercial to consumer automotive supply. For a sector capable of providing the solutions for decarbonizing transport, the opportunity to stay busy despite wider challenges is a good one.

Paul Sheerin is Managing Director of Scottish Engineering