In the West we have our perceptions of China formed by viewing through our TV screens but nothing can prepare you for the reality. Putting to one side the sheer scale of the country and its politics it is its modernity that astounds the visitor. The road rail and air communications that link the centres of population and industry and the size and number of high rise buildings is breath taking. Shanghai alone is 25 million people in a metropolis that never seems to end with Â hundreds of high rise buildings. Surprisingly, the air is relatively clean and the noise of traffic is muted. If you cross the street cars and bikes appear noiselessly behind you because so many are powered by electric motors. This truly is a vision of the future and China is a long way ahead of Europe and the USA in the electric revolution.
In China this year over 1.60 million electric vehicles were sold up to September 2019 â€“ a third more than in Europe and the USA combined. There are over 5 million electric vehicles on the roads in China and they have the charging points to support them. Not just cars but bikes buses and taxis too.
Europe and the USA are trying to catch up and governments on both sides of the Atlantic are taking steps and developing policies to support this green power revolution. There is a long way to go. Most of the battery cells are made in China and European buyers must compete with Chinese manufacturers to secure the supply of Li ion power cells. In the short and perhaps medium term demand will outstrip supply. This will not only result in higher prices especially for Electro deposited ED copper foil but may also restrict the growth in uptake. China being a command economy and with its acrimonious relationship with the USA will inevitably channel its available Â production of Li ion cells to Chinese customers in preference to exports.
They answer then is to produce Li ion power cells in Europe. This is all well and good until you consider that the raw materials and especially Electro deposited ED copper foil for the most part will still have to come from China as to date they are not manufactured in anything like sufficient quantities in the West. China today still holds all the cards.
Looking forward how will this automotive revolution affect our own automobile manufacturing sector?
We have enjoyed the benefit of a thriving auto manufacturing sector over the last 30 years in the UK. Inward Japanese investment brought Nissan, Toyota and Honda to manufacture and assemble vehicles in the UK. This complemented Ford, Vauxhall, BMW Mini, Peugeot Citroen and Jaguar Landrover. These volume car manufacturers also helped support the smaller specialist producers like Lotus, Rolls Royce, Bentley and Morgan as press workers and stampers invested in plant for manufacturing components for both large and small customers.
Whilst all the volume producers have pan European supply chains they also have many tier 2 components manufacturers from stampers and press workers to trim and electrics producers based in the UK and working within that supply chain. These companies, many located in the Midlands now face an uncertain future. Already outside the Euro zone and soon to be outside the EU single market the changes in Engineering and tooling required by electric vehicles may require an investment beyond their means without the income generated from high volume supply chain production. From 2020 onwards we can expect the industrial face of our traditional manufacturing regions to change as dramatically as the retreat from coal did to the coal fields in the 1980s.
The change to electric power will bring new investment and jobs in automotive sector manufacturing with new factories for Electro deposited ED copper foil and lithium ion cell production and the electrical components required for the new vehicles Â but it will also inevitably bring business closures and job losses particularly amongst stampers and press workers.
This is a revolution that cannot be avoided. Transport is a vital part of our modern lives and reducing emissions, breaking the reliance on fossil fuels and ensuring clean air for future generations is vital for the health of us all and the planet.