Vicenç Aguilera is the president of the Automotive Industry Cluster of Catalonia, which brings together 160 sector companies and agents. The automotive sector in Catalonia generates a yearly turnover of €14,000M – 7% of the GDP – and is the highest exporting Catalan industry sector. Firms such as SEAT and Nissan manufacture out of Catalonia, which also is home to IDIADA Automotive Technology, a global benchmark testing centre. And all this in a region with a strong automotive tradition, where the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya hosts some of the most significant motor racing events in the world, such as Formula 1 and Moto GP.
What’s your view on the current situation of the automotive industry?
We are in a very positive moment for the sector, where all management control indicators are green. The market is growing, both in terms of domestic consumption and in exports, making it the perfect time to consider new projects and to take advantage of the opportunities. Opportunities that are arising out of today’s technological changes, either in products - such as the electric car - or in production technology, and that can allow Catalonia to introduce new industrial activities that will also increase our competitiveness.
What is the Catalan automotive ecosystem like?
Catalonia is a land of over 7 million inhabitants making 600 thousand cars a year: an extremely high ratio. Despite its small size we have two manufacturers, SEAT (German) and Nissan (Japanese). This is very positive because together it means we have a variety of technologies, trends and cultures. Furthermore, the ratio is also high in terms of parts production: we have an extremely well-placed network of suppliers with a highly qualified, cutting edge industry.
Catalonia also has IDIADA, an engineering and testing centre, complemented by the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, where tests are performed as well as racing events. Furthermore, quite recently the Catalonia Living Lab was established, bringing together three circuits: the one in Castellolí, the Barcelona circuit and IDIADA, with a full range of services that allow for testing in the field of self-driving vehicles. And the idea is to take this even further. We are talking about a positive and attractive ecosystem for all things to do with the automotive and motorcycling industry, as well mobility in general. Regarding infrastructures, we believe that the Mediterranean corridor will drive a lot of goods traffic, creating more access to a productive, powerful and technological region that can be benefited from. Along these lines, in order to cut the number of trucks on the road, the Cluster of the Automotive Industry has created the MegaTruck, a 25.25 metre truck with a 60-ton maximum capacity.
And what about R+D?
Regarding the rest of Spain, Catalonia is the region performing most R&D. And this is very significant, given that one person who works in the vehicle manufacturer R&D centre generates work for 50 more people for five years in the automotive industry. From the Automotive Industry Cluster of Catalonia we strive to ensure the sector does not fall behind in technology terms. We must remember that a car incorporating certain technologies has a life cycle of nine years: three to make it and six to sell it. So if you don’t use completely up-to-date technology, you are launching out of date products, which are then pushed out of the market. We must seize all the new opportunities coming out of a sector that is innovating at exceptionally high speeds.
What’s your opinion on the entrance of inbound companies?
It’s fundamental. Behind the decision of a foreign firm to come to Catalonia there is a conscious thought process, confirming that the ecosystem they will find is viable. And the fact that here the automotive sector is increasingly turning to Industry 4.0 is also generating more opportunities. The differential element that makes being in Catalonia better than in other places is the fact that here we aren’t offering traditional industry, instead we offer Industry 4.0. This kind of industry doesn’t enter the sector digitally. Paradoxically it does so analogically. More than a result, it’s a process. It’s the possibility to re-invest in Catalonia in a more automated, digitalised and competitive industry.
In fact, of everything made in Spain, only 20% is consumed in this market, everything else is exported. This makes us an unusual place because many car makers are manufacturing all around the country, something which doesn’t happen in other European countries. This is the result of a large amount of brands that have come here and have managed to keep their plants competitive.
What should companies do to become more competitive?
In terms of strategic planning, it is essential to contemplate improving competitiveness at an annual rate of 3 to 4%. This is the strategic planning that companies must adhere to in order to stay competitive in the market. It’s not impossible, and in fact it’s a "must" for companies. The automotive industry world is extremely demanding and the price of components are not expected to rise in the long-term. Historically it has stayed that way, while also car prices are staying relatively stable, even though the content found in cars is increasing. The forecast for the future is therefore not one of rising prices. In fact, they should fall instead, becoming more and more competitive. This is common throughout industry in general, but in car manufacturing the technological challenges are tougher. And whoever wants to increase the price of their product will inevitably have to close down.
What’s the role of the electric car in all this?
It is a new player on the field. Society, industry and the markets are used to a car with certain features and characteristics. The electric car arrives on the scene as an unfamiliar element and seems to be taking second place, with its qualities making it appealing as a third or second family car. While its attraction improves hand in hand with its features, consumers looking for a first car still are wary about opting for an electric model. Largely because of their inability to travel long distances.
The increase of the range of the electric car is a slow process that is intrinsically linked to consumer trust. We believe that by 2020 the possibilities of these cars will be better, with ranges of up to 400 km per charge. When that happens, users could consider one as their first choice of car.
There is no solid option for the future, you cannot choose one car or another, the future belongs to all types of vehicles. It is a very complex provision: if petrol stations today offer four types of fuel, in the long-term we could be finding up to 10 different kinds.
And connected vehicles?
Up to now, cars have been offline, with the driver being connected and not the machine. In the future, connected vehicles will be able to perform innumerable tasks - in terms of traffic, for example. Take somebody deciding to drive to a city, along with a thousand other drivers. The combined detection of these vehicles would make for very efficient traffic management adapted to the volume of vehicles. In the long run, they will be able to collect all kinds of information: temperatures, speeds, images, etc. In 2020, 50% of the cars in the world will be connected, which will generate a new way of thinking to understand all these machines on the move and which will be connected to Internet, as well as being being connected to the people in the car.