I want a Tesla, I want it in white and I want it now!
21 September 2018 by David Bott
The week started without a “start the week” meeting, so although I was in Swindon, I can keep my record!!
The Executive Meeting took most of the day, but a phalanx of us went down to London for the first meeting/meal of the MNT Centres Review Steering Group. A lively evening where we discovered that one of the “non-execs” was actually involved in the original Government activity and knew a fair amount about where the bodies were buried. Some effort was required to stop an autopsy on the past and to drive the focus towards the future, and I need to learn not to stay in the pub until closing time with Dutchmen!!
Back to Swindon for (first) a Board Meeting planning meeting, then on to the Digital Economy Expressions of Interest Sift panel meeting. No matter how many of these I do, I am always surprised at how people can misinterpret the questions, avoid the requests for information, fall prey to the “cut’n’paste” monster or just plain not put anything in the boxes – and then complain that they are not selected. We had 115 applications and room for 60, so it was an intense process to pick people who can make a real contribution and balance out the spread of skills and experience. The afternoon was spent on an almost 4 hour drive from Swindon (a known communications hub) to Hethel (the headquarters of Lotus) for the dinner before the meeting of the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform Steering Group. Experience has taught us that 3 or 4 meetings in to the development of any Steering Group, it is good to give them the opportunity to socialise and learn more about one another. There was much interest in Andrews Ferrari 308GTB purchase until Bill Gibson admitted that he had brought his brand new Alpina B36s with him – rather undermining his semi-religious stance on electric vehicles!!
The actual meeting started early the next day, with a group discussion on the various interpretations of the route between the hotel and the Lotus site. The bulk of the discussion were about the Integrated Delivery Programme, but important issues that emerged included a strong stance against ETI from the DfT and BERR and the realisation that we would have to arrange the flow of ‘competitions” to take account of the RDAs geological timescales for approving investment. I saw Julia King note this one down, so we can expect a question about this at the Board meeting.
The afternoon was a tour of the Lotus facilities. Highlights included the EPSRC and now TSB funded work on combustion efficiency, an Elise with a sound system than mimicked other cars (I had seen something similar in WMG but in a simulator environment – this was on a road-going car), a Prius with a forward projection engine sound (to stop running over people) and a tour of the production line. Here we saw various examples of the Elise, Exige, Evora (the new 2+2) and the Tesla Roadster – which is built on the same line and shipped to the US without batteries. The use of a bonded aluminium chassis, steel sub-frames and a composite body makes the Lotus cars a materials scientists dream and we managed to extend the tour way beyond the planned time as we asked questions and managed not to touch anything.
Thursday saw a telephone interview with Murdoch MacTaggart on ITSS – arranged and chaperoned by Nick Sheppard, a long chat with Lisa about Innovate and a chance to catch up with e-mails!!!
Friday, on the other hand, turned out to be a commitment accumulation day. It started with a poorly Iain and I in at DEFRA for a long heralded meeting with Neil Thornton, who turns out to be the SRO for SCP and Waste. It was a good, open discussion with us realising once again that we need to put lots of effort into getting people to where we are before we can move on. It was also pointed out to us, albeit politely, that putting a guy from the Science bit of DEFRA in as a main contact isn’t exactly right.
Next came the Strategic Advisory Group with the SIC Chairs (or equivalent). After the pleasantries we expected ideas and “votes” for new Innovation Platforms from the regions, with a hope that they would also align their efforts. I am not sure we got that but, aside from one confused and self-contradictory input, we got a lot of advice on how to organise our efforts. As I sit here looking at my notes, I am still not sure that they get the need for a well-defined output, a large future market or the need to satisfy the Technology Strategy Board investment criteria. Interestingly, a couple of the members admitted that they had heard the story several times but still didn’t fully understand it, so the need for better communications came up again. We forget how far we have moved in the last year and need to take our various stakeholders along more tightly if we are not to lose them. There was also a presentation from Northern Ireland about how they intent to support innovation in their business community and another look at Hilary’s enormous spreadsheet. I cannot shake the feeling that this has led people to believe that they have already got the £180m in the bag and no further effort is required. Unless we can get going on starting new things, we will miss the target and getting into a blame game in the third year of the CSR might get in the way.