The news of the Government's plan to use special powers in securing investment of the electric vehicle (EV) company Rivian backed by Amazon in the UK brings a deja vu feeling to a not dissimilar political stimulus which brought the DeLorean Motor Company to Dunmurry near Belfast. The latter project being part of the then Labour Government's initiatives in bringing about economic change in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. At that time I was a part player in Northern Ireland's investment team based in New York charged with attracting American companies to the Province. A challenging experience not helped by the enormous success of the Republic of Ireland in the same market - offering corporate tax incentives to companies locating new operations in Ireland.
Above : Press Release put out by our NI office in New York with the DMC company once the formal deal had been signed by the UK Government and Delorean in 1978.
The UK's strenuous efforts to get ahead of the curve in creating a low carbon emission to zero carbon emission status by the 2040s has electric power vehicles at the high end of its agenda. Amazon have committed to an initial order for 100,000 delivery vans and vehicles from Rivian which requires a European production plant and startup operation within two to three years. Much like the DeLorean Company's objective for a median priced advanced design car ahead of oil price rises. Sadly DeLorean's production plant hit the ground running just as petrol prices at the pump were impacted by OPEC oil cartel's policy of restricting production to boost oil prices. In this they have been successful.
Nonetheless global warming impact is of a much greater dimension requiring countries around the world to urgently cut emission of greenhouse gases to contain as far as is possible the rise in global temperature during the century. Removing oil and petrol powered vehicles and their replacement by alternative power sourcing is already underway - with incentives (and sticks) to encourage faster and wider public use. Blackpool's transport chiefs have already adopted their forward planning to ensure the company's sizeable bus operations will involve all electric buses in the near term. The extension to the Fylde coast's tramway now sought by several groups may not be far behind, while this writer is a supporter of an electric tram route serving Victoria Hospital, Stanley Park and Blackpool Zoo from the town centre and promenade. Electric taxis and Council vehicles are similarly targets for alternative powered transport in the months and years ahead.
Much like my own experience working for Northern Ireland's economic agency in the 1970s - the need for underpinning financial assistance is vital in steering strategic new investment and jobs to areas of the country having a geographic disadvantage. Similarly with Scotland and Wales. In the case of Rivian now scouting for a large site to develop its main electric vehicle assembly plant - and all of the supporting elements required; a Government pivot towards the West of England is evident, with Bristol's airport (and port) infrastructure being especially valued assets.
On a much smaller market scale, but no less invaluable, is this country's need for an advanced production centre for 'light rail vehicles' and their railed ilk - to fit in with sustained and increasing demand for electric light rail systems, both large and small. France showed the way in this policy nearly two decades previously through support to Alstom and their eminently successful 'Citadis' model tram design. A newbuild factory, complete with extensive test track, having been sited on France's northwest Atlantic coast and now provides constantly expanding tramway operations, not just in France but including North Africa, the Middle East and the marvellous system serving Dublin and its suburbs as well as Nottingham. Many; not all just yet, French towns and cities now have new electric tramways most of which emerged during the past two decades, with Paris constantly extending a complete circular line around the periphery of the capital city.
Blackpool took seriously the interest of Skoda Transportation in presenting its then new model as a possible light rail vehicle in the town's upgrade scheme. Here an example is being presented at the Skoda works in Plzen to Blackpool Transport visitors. Below : examples for Prague and two other systems in the process of body assembly.
Below : Steve Burd, BTS MD listens to Skoda's technical team inside one of the new models on the Prague system. All Photos : John Woodman
When the UK's politicians finally get around to similarly gripping the pressing need for electric urban transport along busy transport corridors - to displace shoals of buses harming health among other negatives - a new build light rail factory with UK startup manufacturer has to be a priority. The northwest is eminently placed to provide this, having two leading tram operators albeit one large and the other small - as well as a long history of tram design and development kept alive by the cadre of engineers and management at Rigby Road as well as perserverance of a core team at Preston Tram / aka Trampower. The days of shipping in imported units from Europe through lack of UK domestic capacity and the small cartel of European manufacturers seeking to maintain their dominant position as suppliers - need to be foreclosed. Blackpool, Manchester and Preston together with the stunted deferment of a Liverpool light rail network, and possible Wirral scheme as envisaged by Peel Holdings - are fertile ground for a northwest startup, perhaps even drawing in BAE Systems with its advanced manufacture, design and development skills.
Good luck to Bristol and the south west in becoming the UK's Electric Vehicle Supply Hub. A comparable initiative for the northwest is on standby - should any of our politicians be listening.