In what is an amazing business story, the Midlands maker of some of the finest sports cars, Westfield has also become the UK’s leading manufacturer of electric autonomous vehicles
If you’re into your cars, the name Westfield will need no introduction. The company based in Kingswinford has been making specialist sports cars since 1982 – either as complete vehicles or ‘kits’ that buyers can build up themselves.
What will come as a surprise to most is that Westfield is also the UK’s leading provider of autonomous vehicles – cars, or rather PODs – that drive themselves. Looking at the company’s high performance, traditional sports cars and then its rounded, sci-fi-looking PODs, it’s hard to conceive that they are part of the same business. But thanks to the company’s vision of catering for the traditional driving enthusiast while developing into cutting edge transport solutions for now and the future, Westfield Technology Group is proving hugely successful.
What’s more, the success is truly home-grown, with 86 per cent of the supply chain located in the Midlands, rising to 99 per cent in the UK. “Being clearly British, and especially from the heart of the traditional motor manufacturing region that is the Midlands, is extremely important to us,” said CEO Julian Turner. “As we have grown and developed, we have worked extremely hard to bring all the people with us from the car side of the business. So they have grown and developed with us.”
The POD was first developed eight years ago in conjunction with Heathrow Airport and has completed more than five million kilometres in the live commercial environment serving Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 POD Parking. PODs have featured on national TV news when trials were successfully run on a 3.4km route around London’s Greenwich Peninsular using advanced sensors and state-of-the-art autonomy software to detect and avoid obstacles as they picked up and dropped off passengers at designated stops.
PODs are also in use in Birmingham, Manchester, the Lake District National Park, West of England University and across the world in Australia, Germany, Canada, South Korea and Dubai. There are also plans to run vehicles in China and Taiwan. The rate of growth meant that last year the company split its business under the Westfield Technology Group umbrella into Westfield Sportscars Limited and Westfield Autonomous Vehicles. “Both are doing very well,” said Julian, revealing a 35 per cent increase in Westfield car sales so far this year – bucking the general decline across the motor industry.
Westfield’s performance saw Julian named West Midlands Director of the Year 2019 by the Institute of Directors. The IoD praised the company’s modern development, aided by its ‘acceleration towards electrification and autonomous technology’. The Institute added: “A genuine disruptor, Julian has taken a traditional manufacturing business and shown real entrepreneurship by transforming a kit car producer into the UK’s leading POD manufacturer, directly targeting clients from across the globe.”
Westfield is continuing to push the technology boundaries with the likes of its Project Synergy which aims to accelerate the deployment of ‘platooning’ technology – two or more PODs following each other in controlled formation – for road transport in the UK. Platooning has the potential to increase the efficiency of road use and improve safety and the environmental performance of vehicles.
Since 2015, Westfield has been researching the application of graphene supercapacitors in vehicle tests to enable faster charging while also extending battery life. The work has been conducted with Zapgo Ltd (Zap&Go), Heathrow Enterprises, Hyperdrive Innovation, Potenza Technology and the University of Warwick. Westfield is also currently collaborating with companies and universities in the UK, US and China on the use of metallic Microlattice – an ultra strong and light synthetic metallic material developed by Boeing – in its future vehicles.
“The state of the market and the general climate is to be more sustainable,” said Julian. “This is reflected in the work we are doing in our business. We are developing new software, control systems, the use of new materials and new battery systems. We are working on a new rotary hybrid engine for our sports cars, as well as pure electric power.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
It’s all a far cry from the day in spring of 1982 when historic grand prix competitor and engineer, Chris Smith decided to design and build a replica of one of his all-time favourite race cars, the 1956 Lotus XI Le Mans car.
Such was the accuracy and beauty of the car he produced in his home garage at Westfield House, Armitage he was inundated with requests from enthusiasts wanting one for themselves. By the following Easter, the company Westfield Sportscars had been created. Demand for the new Westfield XI replica kit meant bigger premises and staff were required and the fledgling sports car company was under way.
With changing times have come new challenges for Westfield, but thanks to brilliant invention and business skills, the company has managed to sustain and grow its traditional business while developing exciting new transport propositions that will ultimately impact all our lives and the environment for the better.