UK Auto Firms Show Style At Yokohama Expo

British firms brought their flair for technology, engineering excellence and design to the Automotive Engineering Exposition 2015, held at the Pacifico Yokohama Exhibition Hall over three days from May 20.

And representatives of the UK government department that organised the impressive British pavilion said there was “more interest than ever before” in the UK’s auto sector.

“The Japanese see Britain as a good market, partly because we already have Japanese plants and they have been working with us for many years,” said Dave Yuill, strategic technologies manager for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

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“In addition, the Japanese really want to use low-carbon technology to reduce their CO2 emissions and the majority of the British firms here today have systems that will help them to do that,” he added. “It’s an area that the UK excels in.”

The UK’s Automotive Council has identified a number of strategic technologies that domestic companies can focus on, including autonomous vehicles, energy storage and management and lightweight power trains, all of which help to cut a vehicle’s emissions.

And Japanese firms are aware that their counterparts in Britain are world leaders in these areas.

“The perception of British car firms is very good,” said Yuill, whose organisation has assisted many auto companies in their forays into the exacting Japanese market.

“They know we have the technology, they know we are scientifically capable, they know we are good partners and that’s what we’re here to highlight,” he said.

Close to 20 British companies made their presence felt at the event, surrounded by some of the biggest names in the global auto sector, with the low-slung, two-seat Westfield Sport Turbo 1600 attracting a steady stream of admirers.

One of the firms taking part in the annual event for the first time was Aeristech, a design and prototyping company based in Warwickshire that specialises in high-speed electric motors and power-train downsizing.

“We are already working with a number of Japanese companies, but we have not been as fully engaged as we would like to be here,” said Bryn Richards. “We have perhaps been running in second gear here so far and now we have decided that we really want to step things up in Japan.”

After Europe, Japan has the strictest emissions regulations in the world, making it an attractive target for Aeristech, said Richards.

Arriving ahead of the exhibition, he held a series of meetings with Japanese firms, including a tier-one manufacturer, and he hopes the visit will lead to “five or six” contacts with companies that realise the potential of Aeristech’s systems.

“We have come here with the help of UKTI and that was really important to us, but ideally we would like to find a local agent to help us in the market because geographically, the UK is just a little bit too far away,” Richards said.

“Right now, we’re trying to build up our contacts, build a reputation and, hopefully, establish the business here.”

Cosworth Group Holdings Ltd. – a name long associated with the top end of the motor sports and racing sector and with a firm following in Japan – was also displaying some of its latest designs and enhancements at the event.

One of the devices on display was the Alive Drive system, which is fitted aboard a vehicle and collects video and other data to enable a driver to improve his or her performance behind the wheel. The system is fitted as standard to all Chevrolet Corvettes that are produced in the US, according to Pio Szyjanowicz, head of communications and partnerships at the company’s Northampton offices.

“Being here is all about building on our existing relationships as well as developing new ones and, after a long time doing business in Japan, we know just how important it is to come to events like this and meet people face-to-face,” he said. “In Japan, there really is no substitute for that.

The top end of the auto sector is bouncing back after a couple of quiet years in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, Szyjanowicz said, and big Japanese firms are turning to outside companies for components and technology that they are not always able to develop in-house.

“Often, it is not possible for some of these companies to produce in small amounts, often as low as 500 units of extremely sophisticated equipment,” he said. “But that is an area of expertise for us and we’re here to speak with people and to let them know what we can provide.”

Another UK company aiming to raise its profile in Japan is Lougborough-based Intelligent Energy. A leader in fuel-cell technology, company founder Jon Moore was particularly keen to highlight the firm’s collaboration with Suzuki on a fuel-cell motorcycle.

“I have been coming back for several years and we have an office in Osaka since 2012 and we have been able to build up a very strong relationship with Suzuki,” he said.

Intelligent Energy jointly launched the first fuel cell motorbike in 2006, demonstrating to potential partners that “British companies are as good as the best in the world in this area,” said Moore.
“We have a similar level of technology as the biggest names in the auto sector, but we are not spending billions on development,” he said. “And that makes us an attractive partner.
“We already have a significant presence in Japan but we would like to be bigger because this is the most important country in the world for the automotive industry,” he added. “It’s a place that we have to be.”

According to government statistics, a total of 1,528,148 vehicles were built in the UK in 2014, with Nissan, Toyota and Honda all operating manufacturing plants in Britain. Of the total, more than 1,195,000 were exported.

The auto sector has an annual turnover of GBP64.3 billion and employs more than 149,000 people.

The British companies exhibiting in Yokohama attended a reception on the opening day of the event, with Tim Hitchens, the British ambassador to Tokyo, saying that he has visited the show every year for the past three years.

“The relationships between Japanese and UK firms in the auto sector continue to go from strength to strength,” he said. “And this event gets bigger and better every year, and I’m sure next year will be even bigger for UK firms.”

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Read about last year’s event here.

To see how one UK company that specialises in manufacturing car crash test barriers entered the Japanese market, read our informative case study Cellbond: Impacting on Safety in Japan.

Contact our Manufacturing team for more information, advice for your business and to understand the latest opportunities for UK companies in Japan.

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Article by Julian Ryall, May 2015.