UK car sector accelerates toward electric future

Europe witnesses a growing trend for car consumers looking for more environmentally conscious and efficient products. (Reuters)
Updated 22 July 2019

UK car sector accelerates toward electric future

  • A total of 214 models will be available for purchase by 2021, up from 60 in late 2018

LONDON: Britain’s auto industry, seeking to swerve Brexit obstacles, is accelerating toward electrification as consumers shun high-polluting diesels, driven by rapid advances in technology and greener government policy.

Four famous car brands born in Britain but now foreign-owned — German-held Bentley and Mini, Indian-backed Jaguar Land Rover, and Chinese-controlled Lotus — have each this month outlined plans for purely electric models to sit alongside their petrol vehicles.
All-electric cars, which need to be charged from the mains, and hybrids, which combine electrics with petrol or gasoline engines, are gaining in popularity as more consumers turn away from the pollution-spewing internal combustion engine.
“You need to be into electrification,” Lotus Cars chief executive Phil Popham told AFP in an interview after unveiling the firm’s first all-electric sports car Evija — pronounced “E-vi-ya” — which the company will start making next year.
Lotus, 51-percent owned by Chinese auto giant Geely, plans an initial sale of only 130 of the supercars, which will each cost about £1.7 million ($2.1 million).

Heading toward future
“Electrification is absolutely part of our future,” said Popham. “In the not-too-distant future, all of our cars will offer electrification.”
Lotus’ plant in Hethel, eastern England, will see a £100-million investment over the next five years as it ramps up its sports car range with financial firepower and technical knowhow from Geely, which bought its majority stake two years ago. Etika Automotive of Malaysia holds the remaining 49 percent of Lotus.

NUMBER

200 mph will be the top speed of the lotus hypercar Evija.

Popham said the removal of large components, like the internal combustion engine and gearbox, will see the so-called hypercar Evija have an electric motor on each wheel.
It will reach 0-60 miles per hour in three seconds and have a top speed of 200 mph. Fully charged however, it will be able to drive a distance of only 250 miles.
In the more affordable premium market, Jaguar Land Rover, owned by India’s Tata Motors, is planning a range of electric vehicles at its central England factory — starting with the next-generation Jaguar XJ luxury saloon model.
“The future of mobility is electric,” said JLR CEO Ralf Speth, whose company introduced its first electric vehicle I-PACE last year.
Elsewhere, BMW-division Mini recently launched plans for its first all-electric Mini Cooper at its factory in Cowley, southern England.
“We’ll be able to really react to demand from customers as we go forward because Mini electric (cars) go down exactly the same production line as the traditional combustion engine product,” David George, director of Mini UK, told AFP on a visit to the facility.

SPEEDREAD

In Europe as a whole, the number of electric car models, including hybrids, is set to triple by 2021.

In Europe as a whole, the number of electric car models, including hybrids, is set to triple by 2021, according to Brussels-based environmental lobby group Transport & Environment.
A total of 214 models will be available for purchase by 2021, up from 60 in late 2018, T&E said.
“There is a growing trend for consumers to be looking for more environmentally conscious and efficient products and technologies,” Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark told AFP.
He was speaking in July after the Volkswagen-owned luxury carmaker detailed its futuristic all-electric self-driving concept, the EXP 100 GT, at its facility in central England.
When Nissan unveiled its first mass-market electric car hatchback Leaf nine years ago, the Japanese carmaker described it as a “game-changer” for Britain’s biggest car plant in Sunderland, northeastern England.
Since then, more and more carmakers have sped up plans for more environment-friendly products — and also electrify their current offerings.
However, Cardiff University economics professor and auto specialist Peter Wells lamented the fact that many automakers were merely replicating electric versions of pre-existing models — rather than optimising how they deploy cutting-edge technology.
“The mindset is that the industry should simply replicate the existing petrol/diesel product ranges, only in hybrid and electric,” said Wells.
“In my view, this strategy can still result in less than optimized vehicle designs,” he noted.


Spice is right as Indonesian startups eye value in vanilla

Updated 35 min 15 sec ago

Spice is right as Indonesian startups eye value in vanilla

  • Interest in growing valuable crop has sparked a small movement back to the land

JAKARTA: Indonesian Sofa Arbiyanto had a manufacturing job in South Korea two years ago when he learned about the high price of vanilla on the global market, and decided to try his luck at growing it.

Now he has 2,000 vanilla vines on a 1,200-sq-meter (0.3-acre) farm in Blora, Central Java, started after he did some Internet research and joined online groups of vanilla farmers.

“My initial view that farmers live in hardship and poverty has changed,” said the 30-year-old. “With a touch of innovation and technology, it is a promising opportunity.”

Arbiyanto is one of a growing number of millennial start-up vanilla farmers in the southeast Asian nation, which is eager to revive spice shipments to diversify its farm exports, now dominated by palm oil.

The interest in cultivating one of the world’s most valuable spices has sparked a small movement back to the land at a time when farmers have been leaving for jobs in congested cities.

The Indonesian Vanilla Farmers’ Association (PPVI) says 43 percent of the nearly 600 farmers it has trained are aged between 25 and 35, a demographic that is typically tech-savvy.

Many have learned farming methods from YouTube, and get tips and guidance from experienced farmers through group chats on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, said Mahdalena Lubis, the association’s spokeswoman. PPVI’s YouTube channel has more than 13,000 subscribers and combined views of its videos exceed a million, she added.

The demand is no surprise, as vanilla beans from top exporter Madagascar were more expensive than silver last year, although prices have since fallen from highs of about $600 a kg.

After typhoons in 2017 and 2018 in the Indian Ocean island sent prices skyrocketing, buyers are looking for more sources of the spice, used in anything from cakes and cookies to sauces and perfume.

Start-up Indonesian farmers are betting on the labor-intensive beans, aware that high-quality crops can fetch them better prices, owing to the painstaking process of pollination by hand.

Indonesia is a distant second to top producer Madagascar, which provides 80 percent of world supply. McCormick & Co, the world’s largest spice company, is partnering with farmers in the islands of Papua and Sulawesi to secure its supply of Indonesian vanilla.

“Although Madagascar remains the gold standard as far as vanilla quality is concerned, Indonesia has strong potential to become an alternative origin, in terms of quantity and quality,” McCormick said in an email.

The coronavirus pandemic has boosted consumer demand for vanilla, as well as that from packaged food companies, it added.

Aust & Hachmann, the world’s oldest vanilla trader, estimated that Indonesia would produce about 200 tons of beans this year, double last year’s estimate.

In a bi-annual report, the trader said stay-at-home orders around the world had benefitted vanilla, with jumps in grocery shopping and home cooking.

Despite strong demand, shipments faced delays because of virus-related disruptions in trade, causing an annual drop of 18 percent for the January to May period, Indonesian trade data showed.

But that trend is unlikely to last.

“When the new normal begins and trade activities are gradually increased . . . vanilla exports will become one of the mainstays of trade that will be expanded,” said Kasan, a director-general in Indonesia’s trade ministry.

But vanilla prices can be volatile, making farming a risky enterprise, Kasan, who uses one name, cautioned.

Lubis, of the vanilla farmers’ group, said ensuring quality was vital to avoid mistakes of the kind that had led big buyers in the past to reject prematurely picked beans, forcing many farmers to switch crops.

“In the global market, we have to be able to compete in maintaining quality to be able to significantly increase our exports,” Lubis added.

But Mohamad Akbar Budiman, 30, is undeterred as he combines work as a civil servant in the province of Banten with an effort to revive once-abandoned cultivation of beans in his backyard.

“Growing vanilla doesn’t take much space, and it’s not difficult.”