Navarra, a strategic enclave for electric vehicles in southern Europe

Between 25 and 35% of all cars to be sold in the next decade will be hybrid, plug-in or fully electric.

In this radical transformation, the Navarra region in Spain will play a leading role. The Volkswagen Group announced its intention to invest more than 7 billion to carry out the electrification of its production plants in Spain, including Landaben (Navarra), where two electric SUVs of different brands are expected to be manufactured.

This announcement reinforces the commitment of the Government of Navarra, which in its Smart Specialization Strategy identifies electric mobility as one of the thematic priorities in the economic development of the region.

Navarre, in northwestern Spain, is one of the strategic automotive enclaves in southern Europe. In a region of just over 10,000 square kilometers and some 650,000 inhabitants, the industry’s figures reveal that it is a highly relevant sector: 112 companies, 13,000 jobs and an annual turnover of close to 6.5 billion euros.

The origin of this fertile industry dates back to 1965, when the Spanish-British company Authi built a production plant in the Navarrese town of Arazuri, located west of Pamplona. Two Mini models were produced there until 1975. Subsequently, the factory was acquired by Seat and, in 1984, by Volkswagen, which currently manufactures three of its best-known models there: Polo, T-Cross and Taigo.

Over time, Volkswagen Navarra has increased its production to become the largest company in the region in terms of turnover, with more than 3,000 million euros, and an important fabric has been created around it, covering different links in the traditional value chain, with strong TIER1 and TIER2 product and service suppliers.

Today, the automotive industry in Navarre is much more than Volkswagen, with a fertile network of manufacturing companies that export all over the world. Not in vain, the automotive industry has been in recent years the largest export sector in the region with more than 46% of total exports in Navarra. Within this network, the strong presence of companies from the plastics subsector stands out, as well as other companies from the metal products and component remanufacturing sectors.

"Sustainable mobility and the electric and autonomous vehicle represent a clear area for growth and innovation."

patxi ceberio

Frenos Iruña

A leading role in the electrification of the sector

It is estimated that between 25 and 35% of all cars to be sold in the next decade will be hybrid, plug-in or fully electric. In addition, according to the report ‘The Future of Talent in the Talent and Mobility Industry’, published by Adecco Automotive, eighteen million highly autonomous vehicles will be operational worldwide.

In this radical transformation, the companies in Navarra will play a leading role. Recently, the Volkswagen Group announced its intention to invest more than 7 billion to carry out the electrification of its three production plants in Spain, including Landaben (Navarra), where two electric SUVs of different brands are expected to be manufactured.

This announcement reinforces the commitment of the Government of Navarra, which in its Smart Specialization Strategy identifies electric mobility as one of the thematic priorities in the economic development of the region.

Navarre’s experts in the sector assure that this strategic commitment will give an added boost to an already highly advanced sector. “Sustainable mobility, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles are future trends and represent a clear area for growth and innovation,” says Patxi Ceberio, general manager of Frenos Iruña, a Navarre-based manufacturer of braking systems for the automotive industry.

Roberto Lanaspa, president of the Automotive Cluster of Navarre and vice-president of KWD, a German multinational that manufactures welded modules for the automotive sector in Navarre, assures that “the auxiliary sector has good prospects and its is more than prepared to meet them”.

In that sense, the strong collaboration that takes place in Navarra between agents and companies in the sector can be an added value for the development of the industry. This is confirmed by Julián Jiménez, director of SKF Tudela, the production plant where the Swedish multinational manufactures bearings for the automotive sector. Jiménez assures that “with technology, digitalization and sustainability”, the productive fabric of Navarre “can make products at the same cost, if not better, than those manufactured in Asia”.

"With electric mobility, Navarre's auxiliary fabric has good prospects for the future".

Roberto Lanaspa

KWD

Innovation and process efficiency

The key to competitiveness, according to the experts consulted, lies in seeking those factors that provide differentiation and added value. Lanaspa, for example, defends innovation and process efficiency as a source of differentiation and stresses that “digital transformation must reach all production processes and the value chain”.

To achieve this digital transformation, the Smart Specialization strategy of the Government of Navarra includes specific lines of work such as the development and sophistication of vehicle components based on sensorization, communications between the components and/or with Smart Cities infrastructure, the integration and grouping of parts and components to form suppliers of modules and systems with greater added value, the servitization of mobility and energy supply models or the promotion of energy storage systems, recharging systems, energy management (V2X) and integration into renewable energy generation networks.

In all these projects, Navarre’s innovation-related entities will play a leading role. All Industry agents are aware that the development of the mobility ecosystem in Navarra is linked to research and technological knowledge transfer between the Navarra Innovation System (SINAI) and the industry.

In this context, the collaboration between the Public University of Navarra (UPNA) and Naitec, a technology center specialized in the automotive and mechatronics sector, has proved particularly fertile in several collaborative projects developed in recent years. Among the projects launched in this field, Naveac Drive-Lab stands out, a project promoted by the Government of Navarra and financed with 4.4 million from React-EU funds, which seeks to develop technological testing infrastructures around the electric vehicle and which will be led by Naitec.

"Navarre producers can make components at the same cost as those made in Asia."

JULIÁN JIMÉNEZ

SKF TUDELA

Talent attraction strategy

The transition to electric mobility in the automotive sector will require workers trained in automation, robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

To ensure the attraction of these profiles, the Government of Navarra, through the Department of University, Innovation and Digital Transformation, recently announced a multi-year funding scheme for the attraction and retention of research talent according to the needs of key agents in the generation of knowledge of the Navarra Innovation System (SINAI).

This plan includes three pioneering projects for the attraction and retention of scientific and technological talent in which Navarra will invest 7 million euros over the next five years. The first of these, WIT, is an International PhD program to attract talent through 16 pre-doctoral contracts to develop individual research projects in Navarra’s strategic areas, including Automotive-Mechatronics, with Artificial Intelligence as a cross-cutting area.

On the other hand, the ANDIA project is designed to promote the recruitment of researchers with international experience and excellence in universities and research centers. Among other requirements, proven experience in international scientific publications will be required, as well as stays in international centers.

Finally, the Investigo program will provide 2 million euros to the entities that make up the Navarra R&D&I System (SINAI) so that they can incorporate 76 young researchers under the age of 30 over the next two years.

A transformation based on sustainability

Another differentiating aspect of the Navarre strategy to make the region a benchmark in the field of electric mobility is its commitment to sustainable production methods. Not in vain, the Smart Specialization Strategy marks the transformation of Volkswagen’s supplier value chain towards a digital, flexible and sustainable model.

This commitment to sustainable production already has some tangible examples, such as the factory of the multinational SKF in Navarra. This delegation was the first of the group to become a sustainable factory, with improvements of 49.5 % in energy savings, elimination of gas as the main source of energy or a drastic reduction in water consumption of 79 %, after going from a use of 80,000 cubic meters in 2012 to the current low 20,000.

In addition, it has invested three million euros in a center where between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of industrial oil from other companies will be treated each year, with a system capable of eliminating the nanoparticles responsible for the oxidation of the oils and extending their useful life.

Something similar happens with the KWD plant in Navarra, “the most advanced of the whole group in innovation, Industry 4.0 and productivity”, according to its vice-president.

And all this without forgetting the recent launch of the Taigo model in Navarra, the best launch in the history of Volkswagen. All these examples prove the potential that the region has in the automotive and mobility field of the future.