Former CEO of Aston Martin warns UK is running out of time to secure future of automotive industry in Coventry University speech

Dr Andy Palmer dressed in a suit stood at a podium on stage at Coventry University's Chancellor's Dinner

Dr Andy Palmer speaking on stage at the Coventry University's Chancellor's Dinner

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Friday 22 September 2023

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The former CEO of Aston Martin and COO of Nissan has warned the UK has “sat on its hands for too long” and was running out of time to secure the future of its automotive industry.

Speaking the day after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced pushing back the ban on new petrol car sales, Andy Palmer told the audience at Coventry University’s Chancellor’s Dinner the UK needed another six Gigafactories in addition to those already announced.

Guests included West Midlands Mayor Andy Street who has been championing a campaign for a Gigafactory in Coventry, spearheaded by Coventry City Council.

Coventry was once the hub of the UK’s motor industry and Jaguar Land Rover still has a large base in the city and nearby at Gaydon in Warwickshire.

Coventry University has a long history of producing engineering and car design graduates and is also conducting cutting edge research into hydrogen fuels and future transport solutions.

I am often asked if I am optimistic about the future of our industry. The honest answer to that is difficult to answer. I think the UK has sat on its hands for too long whilst the rest of the world ploughed billions of dollars into creating viable battery and therefore auto industries.

Take it from me, automakers will base themselves where the batteries are made. They are too integral, heavy and advanced to be imported on the scale required. By my estimations, the UK needs probably six more Gigafactories than we currently have – and that’s just to service cars, not forgetting the huge potential for other uses of batteries.

The truth is, we have a very short window to act to get our industry in shape for tomorrow. We have to act fast and with meaning. China are leap years ahead of us, so is America, so are the EU.

Keynote speaker Dr Andy Palmer

Dr Palmer, who holds a doctorate in Engineering Management from Cranfield University and is also a Coventry University Honorary Doctorate, is known as the Godfather of EVs in the UK having launched the Nissan Leaf and is now involved with several companies developing green technology including as CEO of Palmer Automotive Ltd; CEO of Pod Point; Chairman of Hilo Ltd, the EV scooter manufacturer; IONETIC, the battery pack technology company; InoBat, the European battery company and Brill Power, the battery management technology platform.

But while committed to electrification as the main route to Net Zero, he says other solutions must be found.

I fear the industry is, with the guidance of policymakers, taking a myopic and narrow approach and putting all our eggs in one glovebox. Politicians must avoid the temptation to view electric as the ‘one size fits all’ approach… which it clearly isn’t.

If we truly want to advance the net zero agenda, we must empower scientists and engineers to find multiple, green technologies that reach those environmental objectives.

Universities, and particularly Coventry University, are more critical than ever in steering the direction of our future automotive industry. Universities are the think tanks, the incubators, the launch pads for the next generation of engineers, designers and entrepreneurs who will navigate these uncharted terrains in our historic industry.

Dr Andy Palmer