The UK's Move To Buck Trump Policies And Win US Tech Business

The Advanced Propulsion Centre stand at The Battery Show, Novi, Mich., Sept. 13, 2018.Ed Garsten

So much for Pres. Donald Trump’s moves to prevent U.S. manufacturing, or any other dollars, from moving overseas. At this week’s The Battery Show in Novi, Mich., just outside Detroit, a UK organization representing a number of tech companies in that country made it plain–it wants to turn U.S. dollars into British pounds.

The organization is called the Advanced Propulsion Centre--a joint venture between the UK government and the British automotive industry, concentrating on advanced battery and powertrain development.

The splashy booth at the trade show featured displays from six companies represented by the APC and was there for one purpose.

Garry Wilson, Director, Business Development, Marketing and Communications, Advanced Propulsion Centre at The Battery Show, Novi, Mich., Sept. 13, 2018.Ed Garsten

“The reason we’re here is to encourage economic growth in the UK,” said Garry Wilson, APC Director, Business Development, Marketing and Communications, in an interview. “What we want is the R and D angle in the UK and hopefully the production angle in the UK and naturally some of that capability will come back to their other activities.”

Wilson likened the APC to a matchmaker or sorts, looking to form collaborative relationships between the companies it represents and those anywhere else in the world. The APC is powered by a 1 billion pound, or roughly $1.3 billion investment over ten years divided equally between the UK government and industry.

Garry Wilson, Advance Propulsion Centre Director of Business Development, Marketing and Communications speaks with attendee at The Battery Show, Novi, Mich., Sept. 13, 2018.Ed Garsten

The APC has already scored wins with U.S. companies–most notably with Ford Motor Co., funding projects that included development of low-emission technologies currently in production in Ford’s EcoBoost engine as well as real-world testing a fleet of plug-in hybrid Transit vans.  Wilson said the UK government also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder regarding lightweighting technologies and intelligent mobility.  You have testing facilities here for intelligent mobility we have test beds in the UK,” said Wilson.

While not large-scale production, such as vehicle assembly, the UK’s overt courtship of U.S. companies would seem to be a brazen move given Pres. Trump’s aggressive moves to discourage U.S. companies from moving work that could be performed in the U.S. elsewhere.

So far, Wilson says, the APC hasn’t drawn Trump’s attention. “I guess the President would want it all here, but I don’t know,” he said. “At the end of the day if it’s mutually beneficial it’s got to be good. But we’re not seeing any letup.” Indeed, Wilson says the APC is in talks with U.S. two, what he termed “significant”  U.S. tier one automotive suppliers that he declined to name.

Then there’s the case of APC member Williams Advanced Engineering, which pulled its business from a U.S. supplier when conditions changed, according to Wasim Sarwar, Senior Battery Systems Engineer.

Wasim Sarwar, Senior Battery Systems Engineer, Williams Advanced Engineering, at The Battery Show, Novi, Mich., Sept. 13, 2018.Ed Garsten

“A number of U.S. suppliers are considering where to manufacture their cells and one of the U.S. suppliers whom we’ve been working with previously have recently shifted some of that production to China,” said Sarwar in an interview. “As a consequence of that on some programs it’s no long feasible to be working with a Chinese-based cell supplier as opposed to a U.S. based cell supplier.“

Sarwar said the supplier, whom he declined to name, shifted production due to a drop in demand in the U.S. “The drop in demand could be for a number of different reasons,” he said. “It could be a political climate issue, it could be other things.”  Sarwar preferred to leave it up to the supplier to offer its own explanation beyond that.

But the APC’s Wilson made it clear, that while the organization’s goal is clearly to bring business and revenue from anywhere in the world to the UK, there’s no intention of raising Pres. Trump’s ire with any adverse effects that might include the loss of U.S. jobs or revenues.

“It’s not about competition,” Wilson said with a smile. “It’s about things of mutual benefit.”

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