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 Images
Show Hide image

I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.