New grants to open doors for West Midlands SMEs in the low carbon vehicle sector

A new initiative backed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) will provide a boost for West Midlands-based companies looking to develop low carbon technologies for the niche automotive sector.

The Niche Innovation Scheme is offering small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the region a selection of research and development grants between £4,000 and £20,000 to create new products for niche vehicles which will contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions.

West Midlands SMEs – including those in the supply chain – are being invited to join forces with research and development organisations to put forward original or existing ideas for low carbon innovations in a bid to win a grant to develop or complete a product.

The £480,000 project, which is funded by ERDF and led by Coventry University Enterprises, aims to encourage partnership working between West Midlands companies and research organisations to enable those companies to access technical expertise that might otherwise be beyond their budget.

It is anticipated that the funding will ‘pump-prime’ activity in the West Midlands’ niche vehicle sector – traditionally one of the region’s strongest industries – and will help ensure the long term sustainability of niche and low carbon automotive manufacturing in the area.

Mike Dickison, director of the niche vehicle programme in Low Carbon Vehicle Grand Challenge, said:

“The niche vehicle sector is a vital part of the part of the automotive landscape in the UK and particularly in the West Midlands. It includes many internationally-recognised, high-value brands and their suppliers, so it’s critical that the niche manufacturers continue to innovate and develop new products, especially to meet the demands of the lower carbon economy.

The Niche Innovation Scheme will provide essential support to those SMEs to allow them access to world-class expertise, and to encourage them to pioneer the kind of new technologies that the volume players will adopt in the future. Their value and contribution to the industry as a whole should not be underestimated.”

Norman Price, deputy chair of the West Midlands ERDF Local Management Committee, said:

“Our region has always had a strong presence in automotive manufacturing, and has learned through research and development activities to adapt and innovate with new advances, especially in the niche vehicle manufacturing arena. However, over recent years – and as a direct response to the economic downturn – this area has faced particularly challenging times.

This ERDF scheme will provide grants and specialist support to help small businesses working in this field to rebuild and develop those important relationships with research and development companies. Together, the new partnerships will provide opportunities to develop and test new and innovative solutions, boosting business profits and improving the regional economy.”

The value of the West Midlands’ niche vehicle sector is estimated to be £450 million, employing over 10,000 people across the region – 75% of whom are based in SMEs. Niche vehicles are defined as any vehicle produced at a volume of less than 5000 units per annum.

For further details on the grants and the application process, please email Suzi Archer

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