Aston CEO Andy Palmer hits out at Driving the Future event in London

Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer has described the government’s strategy for Brexit as “laughable”, its EV-focused policy as "non-sensical" and the idea of full autonomy reaching reality in his lifetime as "absurd".

Speaking at the Driving the Future event in London, backed by Aston Martin, Palmer also admitted that the certainty of a No Deal Brexit this year would be preferable to the current uncertainty of negotiations with no clear outcome dragging on.

Palmer on Brexit: 'I'd rather leave with No Deal than drag negotiations on'

Having planned for Britain to leave the EU at the end of March and again now at the end of October, Palmer believes that clarity would likely be more beneficial to Aston Martin than extending negotiations, even if the latter offered the prospect of better business conditions in the long-term.

“Every time we have to prepare to leave it ties up working capital and brains on something that may or may not happen," he said. "The car industry has proved itself very adaptable, from dealing with tsunamis in Japan to currency problems in Russia, but the issue with Brexit is we don’t yet know what problem we are trying to solve.

“First and foremost I think we now need certainty. I think business was pretty clear that it would prefer a deal with free trade with Europe, and it is true we are looking at a cliff-edge without one, but at this stage a decision is better than no decision.

“It’s not great, but we have modelled No Deal and run the scenarios. What we find harder to work with is goalposts that keep moving every six months. We need an outcome, and the truth is that we have debated our negotiating tactics in public, while the EU27 have worked with consensus and executed their negotiations brilliantly. Our Brexit strategy has been laughable.”

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Battery electric vehicle focus "non-sensical"

Palmer also hit out at government strategy around future powertrain technology, and in particular its singular view that electrification is the answer to all transport environmental issues.

“EV is one route, it is not a panacea. The bit that pisses me off is when they try to pick a technological winner,” said Palmer. “The UK is trying to get on the front foot and say it wants to be a leader in electric vehicle technology but the truth is that nobody knows what the right technology is for 20-30 years time.

“Politicians can’t be taken seriously if they talk about 30-40 years ahead,” he added. “They are concerned with taking power and staying in power over a relatively short time, and they know they won’t have accountability over the much longer-term.

“Government should identify problems and set policy. The engineers should define the solutions. I am pretty sure that 40 years from now there will be solutions beyond battery-electric vehicles to consider. Why not synthetic fuels that are carbon neutral? Or where will hydrogen fit in? There are so many answers, some not even thought of yet.

“If reducing CO2 is the goal then diesel is a good solution. If it’s improving air quality then perhaps not. But which is it? They’re all mixed up. They are trying to bet on technology that they don’t understand.”

Palmer also suggested that the government’s oft-stated goal of establishing the UK as a leader in battery technology was “non-sensical” given the funding it has put up is significantly less than that of rivals.

“We can’t be a leader with the way we are approaching it currently,” he said. “At Nissan we spent in the region of $4bn establishing the Leaf; in Europe, led primarily by France and Germany, they are putting up 7.5bn euros; in Asia they have been working on this technology 15 years; and in the UK we have pledged £750m. How can we compete with the world with that? The idea that we could lead on lithium-ion battery technology with that level of investment is non-sensical.

“If that is the budget then we should pick a technological winner and put everything behind it rather than try to play catch up without the budget to do it. Personally, I look at some of the work on autonomy coming out of UK universities and see absolute leadership. Why not invest in productionising that?”

Idea of full autonomy in our lifetime "absurd"

In addition, Palmer spoke about the prospect of full autonomy in his lifetime, talking down the idea that the technology would become widespread.

"Unless it is in a geo-fenced area then you are not going to get full autonomy in the way many people are describing it," he said. "The idea of full autonomy being widespread in my lifetime is absurd. Full Level 5 systems are a moonshot.

"Yes, there will be a typical automotive cycle through stages, from Level 0 upwards - albeit with the mixed section of Level 3 when the car takes control but can hand back to the driver being skipped if commonsense prevails, in my opinion - but the idea of Level 5 in somewhere that isn't geo-fenced isn't comprehensible."

The Government response

Speaking at the same event Alun Cairns MP reiterated the Government’s backing for the automotive sector, saying: “We have committed £1.5bn to R&D in this sector and we will maintain that level of investment and do more if necessary. The Government knows the industry must have the tools to maintain its leadership.”

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Comments
42

10 July 2019

At last someone is talking sense, hopefully the govt might eventually listen, although I won't hold my breath.

Politicians are always sticking their noses into stuff they don't understand, unfortunately it's because they aren't capable of doing their real job.

11 July 2019

Sounds that his more frustrated by the politicans behind Brexit with their indecision that actually wanting a no-deal.

 

He's already stating that no-deal is dreadful for Britain.   Even a deal-Brexit is bad for Britain.   And for the automotive industry not knowing what and for when you're planning the worst.

 

So planning for Brexit harms Britain.   And every version of Brexit harms Britain.   Why don't we do the sensible thing and stop this self-harm and Stop Brexit?

 

11 July 2019
Symanski wrote:

Sounds that his more frustrated by the politicans behind Brexit with their indecision that actually wanting a no-deal.

He's already stating that no-deal is dreadful for Britain.   Even a deal-Brexit is bad for Britain.   And for the automotive industry not knowing what and for when you're planning the worst.

So planning for Brexit harms Britain.   And every version of Brexit harms Britain.   Why don't we do the sensible thing and stop this self-harm and Stop Brexit?

He's saying, quite rightly, that the stalemate within parlament has done more harm than no deal ever would have.

No deal will be a shock to the economic system, undoubtedly - but, as Mr Palmer says, the automotive industry will adapt.

We have done so to the constant draw of British engineering roles to Germany, which has been occuring over the past 4 decades or so - by contrast the shock of no-deal is a walk in the park.

.

Planning to implement the will of the British people as demanded by a referendum result is a logical and reasonable thing to do.

The question was not, deal or no deal - it was, in or out. How "out" is implemented is irrelevant, the people have spoken.

To do anything but implement that result, going back for a second try for example, would no doubt promote substantial civil unrest.

11 July 2019
CarNut170 wrote:

No deal will be a shock to the economic system, undoubtedly - but, as Mr Palmer says, the automotive industry will adapt.

We have done so to the constant draw of British engineering roles to Germany, which has been occuring over the past 4 decades or so - by contrast the shock of no-deal is a walk in the park.

 

Yes, the car industry will adapt as many industries will.   They will adapt by moving out of the UK.   We've already seen this with Nissan losing future work, and Honda (who were giong to update the Swindon factory and had equipment enroute) closing completely.

 

Yes, you will adapt to a lower standard of living too because you don't have a choice.

 

But what if we did have a choice and could stop Brexit?

 

11 July 2019
CarNut170 wrote:

Planning to implement the will of the British people as demanded by a referendum result is a logical and reasonable thing to do.

The question was not, deal or no deal - it was, in or out. How "out" is implemented is irrelevant, the people have spoken.

To do anything but implement that result, going back for a second try for example, would no doubt promote substantial civil unrest.

To implement no deal which wasn't on the ballot paper will create much more civil unrest when only 35% of people back that (according to polls). The only way out now is a people's vote. If we don't have that or Boris proroguse parliament the country will erupt. It will kill the arguements once and for all. This is what industry would probably most like now.

11 July 2019

Tstag and others, whatever your views on Brexit and its many aspects is irrelevant here: this forum is dedicated to cars, engines of all kinds and all things automotive.

Yes, the writer makes a broad point about the political mess affecting the car industry but he is in position to do so and influence some people/politicians to some extent.

The rest of us can only be thankful for the crumbs off the rich man's table, i.e. vote once every X years and carp about it until the next vote.

Shall we keep politics out of motoring? Please? Let's argue whether electric cars have a better/worse future than wind-up cars, for instance?

C'mon guys, let's forget the grinding boredom of the Brexit process while we drool over the Maserati shown here?

11 July 2019
TStag wrote:

To implement no deal which wasn't on the ballot paper

A deal wasn't on the ballot paper either.

But lets hold another referendum, get a result and then holf another referendum for every decision.

We voted to leave - deal or no deal, get over it.

I voted to leave the Union and I lost. Unlike the SNP, I got over it within 10secs because ultimately I believe in democracy. I can't tell you how much I dislike Mr Trump but he's president because of democracy. And what ever views people have on how that democracy is achieved, the same rules applied when Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush Snr, Reagan, Carter etc won their presidencies.

 

11 July 2019

and it is hardly the will of the people if the people are being lied to, but the reality is the Labour party is too inept to lead the Remain movement. To be unable to address charges of antisemitism at this critical moment of time is staggering incompetent.

Anyway, back on topic - keep up the good work Mr Palmer.

11 July 2019
Hughbl wrote:

and it is hardly the will of the people if the people are being lied to...

By both sides!  I'd hope folk aren't so guliable to not know when they're being lied to, but if they're stupid enough to fall for lies first time round, they'll be stupid enough to listen to them 2nd time round and 3rd, and 4th, and 5th and...  whatever it takes to get a result they agree with. Once they agree with the outcome, all of a sudden nobody ever lied?

Tell me I'm wrong.

 

12 July 2019
No wonder AM share price is tanking; these comments illustrate commercial naivity.

AM production volume is so low that you can ship components from Europe in the back of a Transit van or two.

But real mass production does not believe No Deal is in any way a better option.

It seems to me that AM will stop at nothing to get into the headlines. But in reality it's views and situation are irrelevant for the rest of the industry.

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