Clusters driving automotive innovation

Louise Davis

Jonathan Wilkins looks at some of the most exciting automotive engineering clusters around the world

While autonomous vehicles are making most of the headlines in the world of automotive engineering, behind the scenes, the industry is proving that collaboration rather than autonomy is the road to success.Manufacturing clusters are not a new concept. First noted in the UK in the early 1900s, highly concentrated and localised industries, otherwise known as industry clusters, became home to a rising population and lucrative activities.

Industrial clusters now span the globe, with highly innovative companies dedicated to some of the fastest moving (in more ways than one) industries. Automotive engineering clusters are particularly prevalent worldwide.

Silverstone, UK

Where better to start our journey than in the country that gave birth to the manufacturing cluster - Great Britain? Silverstone may be one of the most prestigious race tracks in Formula One, but its name is also becoming synonymous with hi-tech automotive technology and engineering companies.

The High-Performance Technology & Motorsport (HPTM) Cluster is home to around 4,000 firms operating in precision engineering, based within a one-hour radius of Silverstone. These businesses benefit from collaboration and competition from within the cluster, which allows them to adapt their innovative technologies and products for a variety of industries, not just automotive.

Companies enjoying concentric competition in the Silverstone Cluster include big names like Ducati, Porsche and Lotus, as well as innovative smaller companies. These span from engineering firms who use supercomputers to monitor how airflow and water droplets affect speed, to high accuracy inertial navigation system manufacturers.

ACICAE, Basque Country, Spain

Founded in the north of Spain in 1993 with support from the Basque Government, ACICAE is a non-profit making association with the aim of improving the competitiveness of the automotive industry in the region.

The automotive cluster comprises of 300 companies, invoicing over €13 billion and employing over 75,000 people. Since ACICAE began, it has evolved rapidly, contributing to the four-fold increase in turnover of the Basque automotive industry over the past 15 years.

Threefold India

The majority of India's automotive industry is divided evenly into three clusters — Chennai in the South, Maharashtra in the West and the National Capital Region in the North.

Thanks to Government initiatives and heavy investment by global automobile manufacturers, the automotive industry in India is one of the largest in the world with an annual production of 23.37 million vehicles between 2014 and 2015.

The Indian Government aims to make automotive the main driver of its manufacturing initiative, Make in India. With the auto component industry having registered a turnover of $39 billion in the financial year 2015-2016 and a growth rate of 8.8 per cent, the strategy seems to be working.

Furthermore, other Government initiatives in the country include promoting eco-friendly cars and implementing a mandatory five per cent biofuel (ethanol) blending in petrol.

The government has also created a scheme for faster adoption and manufacturing of electric and hybrid vehicles, under its National Electric Mobility Mission 2020. This programme encourages the introduction of reliable, affordable and efficient electric and hybrid vehicles to the country.

Thanks to the size and spread of India's automotive manufacturing clusters, such progressive policies have a much better chance of thriving.

Finish line

As the automotive industry continues to grow and smart technology players enter the fold, manufacturing clusters will play an even bigger part in creating, connecting and securing the vehicles of the future. Who knows, the next automotive engineering cluster we're reporting on could be Silicon Valley.

Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director of EU Automation.