India’s growing synergy with UK’s auto market

As will Tata’s upcoming electric vehicle (EV), codenamed Avinya, which is expected in showrooms in 2025. As automobile giants prepare the next chapter of their product portfolios, an increased synergy between India and the UK’s automobile industries becomes clearer.

The BE.07 and Avinya are examples of the growing importance of the automotive trade between the two countries. The specific focus, as India Inc. invests in the UK, is on research and development, access to EV and hybrid vehicle tech, and component sourcing. For UK companies, India is a massive car market, ripe for attention.

Trade trajectory indicates a consistent upward curve: UK companies invested £19 billion in India in 2021. Indian businesses invested £9.3 billion in the UK, at the same time, according to a 2023 trade and investment factsheet from the UK government.

The automobile trade is expected to corner a larger share of the pie.

Data suggests that in 2022, the UK exported £270 million worth of automotive goods to India, at an increase of 11% from 2021. India’s automotive exports to the UK were to the tune of £160 million, up 12% from 2021.

“Leading Indian companies have set up R&D centres in the UK in order to access our world-beating access to capital and innovation ecosystem. This is because India and the UK have similar ways of working and exploring innovative solutions,” says Chandru Iyer, UK Deputy Trade Commissioner, Investment for South Asia and UK Deputy High Commissioner for Karnataka and Kerala.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, or SMMT, automotive manufacturing means a £67 billion turnover for the UK’s economy, of which around £3 billion is invested in R&D every year.

In India, the latest official data from the heavy industries ministry pegs the automobile industry’s contribution at 15 lakh crore by the end of 2024 (approximately €1,659,062).

EVs: Future mobility, stronger bonds

In August last year, Mahindra started work at M.A.D.E, or the Mahindra Advanced Design Europe centre in Banbury. It complements the Mahindra Design Studio, a similar facility in Mumbai, both working together on exterior and interior designs.

“We speak with the engineering team in India every day,” says Paven Patel, exterior design chief at Mahindra Advanced Design Europe (MADE), before pointing out standout visual elements of the BE.07 concept such as the placement of the charging port on the front side panel of the car and the unique design of the headlights, with each step made in collaboration with the Indian studio.

Tata Motors proves such methods and scale across geographies are workable. Since 2005, the Tata Motors Design Tech Centre in Coventry, has been an important hub for designs, concepts and engineering for what the company calls ACES, or autonomous, connected, electric and shared mobility. Passenger cars such as Tata Harrier and Safari, emerged from here.

“As we go forward with Gen 3 products, Avinya being the first, you can see we are unconstrained from a designer’s point of view,” says Martin Uhlarik, head of design for Tata Motors. The Avinya EV’s radical yet very likeable concept design has already won the 2023 Green Good Design Award, fending off competition from the 2024 Volvo EX90 Electric SUV.

“The UK is one of the leading countries in the world for electric vehicle growth and penetration rates,” says Iyer. “It is envisaged that the future partnership will be centred on Indian mobility companies conducting R&D in the UK and bringing the British technical expertise back to India to benefit from economies of scale and pre-existing manufacturing expertise,” he adds.

British companies are focusing attention on India, particularly on the Indian government’s push towards electric mobility. The Silverstone-based Saietta, which develops electric drive solutions, has deals in place to supply electric motors for two-wheelers as well as commercial vehicles to India.

Launching later this year is an electric commercial vehicle, for which Saietta’s developed an Axial Flux motor, distinguishable from other electric motors with internal geometry changes such as the “pancake” design where a gap is left between the rotor and stator for a magnetic pull. They call it a “halo product”, designed for high workloads and performance.

“It’s the scale of India, that people have to remember. So even if you move the needle slightly, it’s a huge industry effect,” Tony Gott, executive chairman at Saietta Group, said.

CSA Catapult, an innovation centre based in Wales which brings academia, start-ups and large companies together, are working on a £20 million project with 11 companies and two universities, to make a silicon carbide powertrain for McLaren sports cars, using UK-sourced semiconductors.

“The reason why we wanted to work with them is they wanted to be first to market and are making an advanced prototype,” says Andy G Sellars FIET, strategic development director at CSA Catapult. The major push is towards the development of compound semiconductors and CSA Catapult is helping UK companies collaborate with companies in India in the EV space, Sellars says.

The UK government has confirmed strict deadlines on the sale of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Sales of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK from 2030, though plug-in hybrid petrol-electric and diesel-electric cars will be on sale until 2035. The fast-paced research as a result, around electric vehicles, alternate fuel powertrains and software, will benefit Indian carmakers too.

East to west, defined by global policy

With policy shifts globally, India stands to gain. Even more so, as focused clean mobility initiatives, including the Indian government’s Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for EVs, the FAME-II subsidies and the battery swapping policy, are in place.

One of the key drivers for enhanced automotive synergy will be the India-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA), with 10 rounds of trade negotiations already completed.

Robert O’Neil, who is the chief executive officer of the Welsh Automotive Forum (WAF), points to the new EU trade agreement that came into effect in 2024. It will, he believes, present opportunities for UK as well as Indian companies, to strengthen partnerships.

From 1 January 2024, the ‘rules of origin’ state that at least 45% of electric vehicle parts by value must originate from either the UK or EU, if manufacturers of those vehicles are to avoid a 10% tariff when exporting vehicles from the UK to the EU, or vice-versa. Carmakers will undoubtedly look towards newer markets.

“India becomes a market because we are now outside the boundaries of the European Union. It’s possible there’s a strong aftermarket presence, too in India to support,” O’Neil said.

Data illustrates O’Neil’s point about aftermarket support, including components. In 2022, the UK’s automotive component exports to India valued at £110 million, a growth of 15% from 2021.

India is also the world’s largest three-wheeler, passenger vehicle and tractor manufacturer, according to data from Invest India. India’s automotive industry is worth more than $222 bn and contributes to 8% of the country’s total export, the data suggests.

“India has that opportunity now and I realise the flow and adoption of electric vehicles around the world will come from east to west,” says Saietta’s Gott, who believes India must provide a manufacturing base for the world, much as China did, many years ago.

India is reportedly considering a significant reduction in import duty on UK-manufactured cars, up to a certain number of vehicles, in a calendar year. India’s current structure taxes car imports up to 100%, which makes it highly unlikely to retain competitive pricing via this route.

India Inc.’s investments in UK’s Midlands bases

Banbury and Coventry are part of the UK’s Midlands region, crucial to India and the UK’s automotive jigsaw. There have been 76 Indian FDI investments here since 2021, worth over £3.5 billion, creating as many as 13,276 jobs, according to a report from the West Midlands India Partnership Strategy (WMIPS).

Indian foreign direct investment (FDI) is indicative of Indian carmakers’ focus on future mobility, including electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, therefore driving direct research and development investment, as well as innovation.

“UK’s automotive industry already has a longstanding and mutually beneficial trading relationship with India, rooted in close business collaboration over many decades now,” Iyer points out.

For Indian automobile companies, proximity to talent is an additional advantage. The parallel path includes an emerging workforce from educational institutions, as well as experienced professionals presently working in other companies.

“The advantage of being here is we can tap into the talent on our doorstep. The Royal College of Art, which is a one-of-a-kind, leading design institution, just a stone’s throw away,” Philip Gillman, chief interior designer at Mahindra Advanced Design said.

Tata Motors Design Tech Centre finds a home in the Prof. Lord Bhattacharyya Building at the National Automotive Innovation Centre and is in partnership with WMG at the University of Warwick and Jaguar Land Rover. It is additionally funded by the UK government’s Research England.

“We have a very strong academia presence, looking at new innovative technologies, whether it’s product or process,” points out WAF’s O’Neil. It is an advantage for the Midlands too.

In just the Midlands, car companies in proximity include Tata Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin, Bentley and McLaren, to name a few. Think of this as something akin to Silicon Valley but for automotive design and research. The presence of Rolls Royce, TVS Norton’s global headquarters and UK’s Centres of Excellence including the Manufacturing Technology Centre working with Indian companies, are more examples of a strengthening partnership.

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