Monday 16 September 2019

Blazing a global trail as the new electric and autonomous era of motoring dawns

At the event were rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll, Prof Ralf Speth and Kathryn Thomas
At the event were rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll, Prof Ralf Speth and Kathryn Thomas
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Yes, it was the celebration of a major new outlet. And yes, it was about cars and all that goes with buying and selling them.

Normally, the opening of a 20,000sq ft luxurious showroom - as was the case recently at Spirit Jaguar Land Rover at Sandyford, Dublin - would merit near-total concentration on the flagship facility itself.

Yet it was people who dominated the evening. Not just the hundreds who attended to celebrate the official opening. Not just the personalities and Jaguar Land Rover 'ambassadors'. Wonderful and all as they were, the real story to emerge was of a national nature. It was about the fabulous resource of highly-skilled, educated people who can help transform automotive futures.

No less a figure than Jaguar Land Rover chief executive officer Prof Ralf Speth was the one to tell us how special and dedicated a pool of talent we have. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to shine a light on the gifts we have.

I spoke to him before the event and was struck by how impressed he was with what he'd seen at the company's Shannon-based autonomous car project.

He hoped it would become a world leader in its field within five years.

The 150-job software engineering centre will develop advanced automated driving and electrification technologies for the brand. Prof Speth believes it could "create something very special" because of the level of skill and passion of the workforce. He had visited the site earlier.

As one who takes a lot of what some motoring executives say with a pinch of salt, I have to say it was obvious this was different.

He was genuinely highlighting something we, as a nation, might overlook.

From listening to him and to many others over the past while, it is clear we have the people to take advantage of the demand and need for the technology that will power the electric/autonomous-driving eras.

The seismic shift in power trains, and the technology needed to accompany it, surely provides one of the great opportunities for so many young people here. The Shannon facility will develop technologies to support electrification and self-driving elements on future Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles. There is every of hope that such a venture could be replicated by others.

The first electric Jaguar - the I-PACE - was the centre of much attention at the event. Due here by early autumn, it will cost from €84,085.

I drove it in Portugal last week and will be reporting on it in full in next week's Motors.

One of the elements the new Sandyford facility has, apart from more space to display cars and more parking spaces, is the inclusion of electric vehicle charging points.

It's another sign of changing, challenging and (as Prof Speth believes) immensely promising times ahead.

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