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There’s no avoiding the B-word. Globally, the automotive industry is facing great challenges, due to the arrival of electrification, digitalisation, connectivity, autonomous technology and the move towards mobility as a service. However, in terms of business, the odds are stacked up against the UK, which continues to be tangled up in uncertainty.

However, despite the situation the region has found itself in, the emerging mobility market poses a new opportunity for the UK to exploit, following huge investment into future transport technologies. Through this change, the UK is in pole position in the global race to market for connected and autonomous vehicles, with a £62 billion boost to the UK economy by 2030 up for grabs.

At SMMT Connected, a stone’s throw from ongoing discussions between the Conservative and Labour Parties, Chief Executive Mike Hawes sat down with Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer and Toyota Motor Europe CEO Agustín Martín to discuss the UK’s position in the global mobility market.

Hawes says that, although these new challenges will come with huge costs, the pace of change and consumer demand has and will continue to drive substantial investment and collaboration from automakers around the world.

“The world is changing, the automotive sector is behind much of this technological change and you are seeing a lot of this happening in the UK. From autonomous shuttles in Milton Keynes and Greenwich, on road level 4 testing in the Midlands and here in London, self-driving bus pilots in Manchester and even autonomous supermarket delivery trials.”

In addition, the UK boasts world-leading mobility regulations, having the most fundamental review of transport regulations, passing an Automated and Electric Vehicles Act bill in 2018 and working towards industry-wide laws that will support the development of future transport solutions.

“When the chancellor announced a couple of years ago that there would be autonomous vehicles on UK roads by 2021, he set a major challenge,” Hawes continues. “Since then, we’ve seen over £500 million invested into connected and autonomous vehicle R&D.”

With more than 80 collaborative projects and 4 major testbeds, the UK has the potential to be a mobility leader but is crying out for a strong foundation through supporting regulation, comprehensive infrastructure and an attractive market.

“We were the first to pass legislation for autonomous vehicle insurance, we have the world’s most comprehensive review of road transport regulation and more miles proportionally can be driven autonomously in the UK than any other country,” highlights Hawes.

If the UK can overcome the challenges in front of it today, it can harness and thrive off of the success of tomorrow.

Avoiding a Reckless Roll Out

As one of the only British carmakers left, Aston Martin leads the pack when it comes to the luxury market. In fact, as Palmer says himself, Italy is the only other country which challenges the UK.

Although it’s not exactly mass-market, Palmer’s brand is heavily focused on connected car software, with a strong philosophy that an autonomous future isn’t around the corner.

“In 2018, Aston Martin Lagonda spent 10% of the R&D spent in this country,” he says. “We are investing in the technology, but we have to be really careful about how we legislate its deployment. If we legislate around populous policies without thinking it through, we risk using our customers as beta tests. That’s not how you should deploy the technology.”

The UK needs to focus on deploying the technology in a sensible and well thought out manner. Palmer takes this one step further and says that Aston Martin will not even employ level 3 autonomy and go straight to level 4 as he thinks it is “reckless.”

Level 4 means that the consumer can rely on the car driving them around safely. In this context, policies of things like speed control are inappropriate, and Palmer believes that the industry would be better off geofencing areas like schools and hospitals to reduce the speed limit.

“Cherry picking bits of the technology and deploying them early creates the risk of making things worse, not better. My appeal is that we work carefully with a plan that gets us to level 4, rather than recklessly applying different types of technologies.”

If it’s important to Aston Martin as a car manufacturer, it’s also important to other luxury automakers such as Bentley, Mclaren and Rolls Royce and, by defacto, important for the UK.

Toyota’s Vote of Confidence

Martín heads up Toyota’s new European Connected division, which operates like a startup to accelerate the development of new technologies under the Japanese automaker. Toyota is fully-committed to moving away from a conventional automaker to a mobility company, opening up headquarters around the world in megacities like Paris and Moscow.

Toyota Connected’s European HQ is based in London, which is all you need to know about the UK’s position in the emerging market. The automaker has recognised the potential of the UK auto industry, which is a breath of fresh air during the region’s time of turmoil. With Toyota Connected quickly becoming one of the main enablers for this mobility transformation, it is important that the UK continues to provide attractive mobility offerings for foreign companies and flourish on the world stage.

“We decided to be located in London due to the pool of talent that is specifically developed here in relation to data science and software development,” explains Martín. “This is a fantastic time for us as we take the appropriate steps to turn into a mobility company.”

Although he is excited about the journey ahead, he agrees with both Hawes and Palmer that the focus should be centred around safety, regulations and, above all, consumers.

“For a technology push, there needs to be a consumer pull,” he says. “In Toyota, we talk about automated vehicles as opposed to autonomous vehicles because we believe that safety and security should be the number one concern.”

The path towards a cleaner, safer and smarter future requires a transformation in areas such as business model innovation, geographic expansion, culture and IT. But, most importantly, partnership on the world stage is the true enabler of realising this mobility utopia.


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