Jaguar Land Rover shows how British manufacturing is leaping into the 21st century

March of the makers.

The car industry has long been at the forefront of manufacturing innovations. From the assembly line that made the Ford Model T, to the obsession with manufacturing quality that helped Toyota become a byword for reliability, the way cars are made has always been at the heart of the automotive industry’s development. As well as being a piece of unqualified good news for the manufacturing sector in this country, Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement last week of 1,700 new jobs at its facility in Solihull is also an exciting continuation of this story.

Jaguar Land Rover has always worked hard to develop highly advanced design and production capabilities in the UK. The latest expansion covers the development of car designs that can be quickly adapted to satisfy the rapidly changing demands of the market. Amongst other things, it is the company’s use of technology that makes such flexibility possible, empowering it to get products to market faster without compromising on quality. For example Jaguar Land Rover uses advanced, 3D design technology and immersive projections of virtual prototypes to rapidly assess and evaluate the impact of changes to the design of its vehicles. This empowers the company’s engineers to make alterations to the virtual vehicle, and simulate its operation, before the parts for the physical prototype are manufactured. It means that Jaguar Land Rover’s vehicles can be optimised for safety, style, efficiency and performance with much less physical testing than would historically have been necessary, accelerating their time to market and building their competitive edge.

Automotive manufacturing is one of the most obvious applications of such technology, since cars are amongst the most complex consumer products of all. However, consumer products form only a part of the global manufacturing output, and a smaller part of the UK’s. Many non-consumer products can be even more complicated to develop than cars, and the timelines even more demanding – think of drilling equipment for the energy, transport and water industries, of aircraft assemblies, or of refining equipment for rare metal ores. Changing trends in the global economy and changing priorities in global business mean that the flexibility and responsiveness afforded by design and manufacturing technology such as that used by Jaguar Land Rover will become a significant advantage for many different areas of the manufacturing sector.

This ought to be good news for the UK. The ups and downs of British manufacturing are well-documented but, as we look to the future, we should do our best to take advantage of the opportunities offered by changes in global business.  In recent decades, Japan and Germany have succeeded through a focus on efficiency and high quality, and China and Korea have flourished through a drive to reduce cost and time-to-market, but the business world of the future will reward flexibility, agility and innovation. The current changes happening in the manufacturing industry reflect this and the application of the technology in use at Jaguar Land Rover has the potential to help British manufacturers address these priorities.

Modern technology and global supply chains are fuelling accelerated change in dozens of industries. In energy (, smart grids, renewables), in transport (composite aircraft, hybrid cars), healthcare (sensor supported care), defence (UAVs, robotics), in entertainment (mobile broadband, smartphones) and in many other industries, technological advances over only the last 15 years have completely altered the competitive landscape. In the UK, we have the right combination of creativity, computing, design and engineering expertise to give us an edge in this new world order of manufacturing.

We’re unlikely ever to repatriate the manufacturing of high-volume, low-value products (and it’s debatable as to whether we would want to), but the success of the automotive design and manufacturing in the UK shows what can be achieved here when we use our expertise to tackle premium and specialist markets. Jaguar Land Rover is a fine example of what can be done when existing technologies are applied in an innovative manner, and there is much that British industry could do to replicate its success in other sectors.

Further recent signs of recovery in the UK economy are encouraging, but they cannot be sustained by internal consumption alone. The UK has run a trade deficit in every year since the Falklands war, and closing that gap should be a long-term priority for any government that wishes to see a robust distribution of jobs, wealth and stability in this country. Manufacturing has a huge part to play in that and, if this government is serious about facilitating the "march of the makers" then encouraging the kind of innovation in evidence at Jaguar Land Rover would be a good place to start.

Jaguar. Photograph: Getty Images

James Petter is the Vice President & Managing Director of EMC, UK & Ireland

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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