Automotive research and development in the UK

With world-class test centres and a reputation for groundbreaking innovation, the UK leads the way in automotive research and development.

Government-backed innovation

In 2009, the UK government and the UK automotive industry set up a partnership called the Automotive Council, to chart the renaissance of the UK auto sector. This is now seen internationally as the gold standard for government and industry cooperation and has led to a huge expansion of both car manufacturing and automotive research and development (R&D) in the UK.

Facilitating innovation

The capability of UK automotive R&D is demonstrated by the fact that 6 of the 10 Formula One teams have their headquarters in the UK. Formula One depends on the ability of British teams and their 4,500 UK motorsport suppliers to develop world-beating solutions.

While the ability of our engineers to develop revolutionary solutions has never been in doubt, the major change over recent years is the establishment of a comprehensive infrastructure to take concepts from laboratory to production.

Innovate UK, the UK innovation agency, supports the development of 0concepts to prototypes (Technology Readiness Level, or TRL 3 to 5). While the network of manufacturing Catapults helps transforms prototypes to production-ready products (TRL 5 to 8).

The low-emission vehicles market and UK government support

The UK is the largest ultra low emission vehicle (ULEV) market in the EU with over 110,000 ULEVs on the road.

Grants for consumers to purchase ULEVs and improved charging infrastructure have caused this market growth. The UK government and automotive industry are funding a 1 billion GBP Advanced Propulsion Centre for later stage R&D projects around low carbon powertrain and production.

The UK government has supported the early market for ULEVs with investment of 1 billion GBP.

The UK already has the largest network of rapid charging points for electric vehicles in Europe, as part of a network of over 10,000 publicly accessible charge points. And in 2016, 1 in 5 electric cars sold in Europe was made in the UK.

The UK government is supporting the automotive industry to bring improve the effectiveness of electric vehicles, reduce their cost and to increase their range. It will invest 246 million GBP over 4 years in the design, development and manufacture of batteries for vehicle electrification.

Funding for automotive research and development in the UK

Low carbon propulsion

The UK is already a global powertrain centre, manufacturing over 2.5 million petrol and diesel engines a year. We’re now leading the move into electrified powertrains, with battery electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel cells. The UK government and the UK car industry has agreed to jointly invest an unprecedented 1 billion GBP over 10 years developing low carbon propulsion systems. This is administered via the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC). APC runs 2 competitions per year for companies seeking up to 50% funding for projects that will lead to a reduction in the carbon emissions of road vehicles.


The UK has an unmatched track record in the development of lightweight materials, from the first carbon fibre used in Formula One by McLaren in 1981 to the current model range of Jaguar Land Rover, the world’s most aluminium-intensive car manufacturer.

One of the most significant materials for the future of road cars is carbon fibre composites. This presents an opportunity to take the UK’s leading position in motorsport and aerospace and apply it to the emerging market for mass-produced carbon fibre for car production. This is being assisted by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a world-leading network of facilities where composites companies can take advantage of the latest test and development machinery.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs)

The UK is a leader in the field of CAVs. The UK government has created a 200 million GBP fund administered by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), which is jointly funded by the industry and the government. It offers grants through a competitive bidding process.

The UK offers substantial advantages in CAV technology. According to Eurostat, 40% of all large European software companies are based in the UK. With a history of early adoption of technology from home PCs to Internet shopping, the UK has all the right building blocks to develop CAVs.

We’re also establishing ourselves as a leading destination for CAV development, with the world’s most progressive regulatory regime. Testing is possible on any of our roads.

Automotive talent and skills

The UK is the global home of motorsport. Six of the 10 Formula One motor racing teams, including McLaren, Williams and Mercedes-Benz, have made the UK their headquarters.

We have world-class universities, with 4 of the world’s top 10 universities and 9 of the top 10 EU universities according to the international QS ranking.

We have leading engineering companies like Ricardo and world-class automotive research facilities thanks to the recently established Catapult network.

We’re leading the move to low carbon propulsion. Europe’s only large-scale battery facility for electric cars is here. Currently we account for over 20% of European electric vehicle production.

UK government support for automotive R&D

The UK government is absolutely committed to the continued success of the UK car industry by providing over 1.2 billion GBP to automotive research funds. These cover low-carbon propulsion, lightweight materials and connected and autonomous vehicles.

We’re also creating the right environment for new technology to thrive. Our regulatory framework for connected and autonomous vehicles is the most progressive in Europe. This enables car manufacturers and major component suppliers to develop and test their technology with the minimum of bureaucracy. Already, Volvo has committed to the UK as the only ‘neutral’ testing venue outside its own factory locations.

A supportive business environment, focused on the future

The UK benefits from a supportive business environment, offering the most competitive and flexible labour market in western Europe. Workers in the UK car industry add more value per car than anywhere else in Europe.

The government also has up to 50 billion GBP available to support finance and insurance for supplies from within the UK to buyers outside the UK. This support takes the form of guarantees, insurance and loans issued by its export credit agency, UK Export Finance.