Express & Star

Westfield sells driverless pods to South Korea in £30 million project

Dudley sportscar company Westfield has sealed a deal worth up to £30 million to export self-driving vehicles to South Korea.

One of Westfield's self-driving GATEway shuttle vehicles in Greenwich

In one of the very first commercial orders signed for the export of the vehicles anywhere in the world, Westfield will supply the pods to North Gyeongsang, a South Korean regional government.

The groundbreaking deal comes after International Trade Minister and Kidderminster MP Mark Garnier signed a new agreement to will pave the way for the project to supply South Korea with ‘autonomous electric pods’ using UK expertise.

During a visit to South Korea this week to strengthen trade and investment ties, the Minister signed a UK-Korea deal on ‘joint automotive collaboration’ for the UK to provide the driverless vehicles.

Mark Garnier said: “The Midlands Engine is in full gear as we lead the way in manufacturing expertise and show the world that Britain is open for business. Demand for our goods and services is clearly out there and we will continue to support businesses in making the most of global markets as we leave the EU.”

The UK already has a strong automotive trading link with South Korea and the number of cars exported to the country has increased five-fold, making it the UK’s eighth largest export market outside of Europe – up from 16th in 2009.

South Korea has ordered five of the autonomous electric pods for initial testing. The project could provide millions of pounds worth of business for UK companies including Westfield Sports Cars, which is based on the Pensnett Estate in Kingswinford.

Westfield chief executive officer Julian Turner said: “We are really excited to be working with the UK SMART City Team to help drive this technology of the future, from the West Midlands to South Korea.

“The team - consisting of Westfield, Ordnance Survey, Transport Research Laboratory, Cenex, Potenza Technology, Oxford University, Fusion Processing – all have worked hard to develop the relationship together over the past 12 months and it is with great pleasure to be signing a deal between the parties.

“There will be many great things to develop over the coming months, sharing legal, insurance, safety, technology and a passion to make internet of things work a better way."

Westfield is better known for its 'kit' sports cars that are either hand-built at its factory or assembled by motoring enthusiasts themselves. But it is now a leading force in the development of autonomous or self-driving vehicles.

Its pods are to be piloted around the streets of Wolverhampton next year as part of pilot project by Transport for West Midlands to assess the business case for the technology.

The pods, which will also be tested in Birmingham and Coventry, are similar to those already in use at Heathrow's Terminal 5.

The pods can carry up to six passengers at a time and will be used for short-hop journeys of up to a mile.

Westfield is trialling the pods in Greenwich – where they have been for the past 12 to 18 months – and also in Bristol. A commercial operation could then start at the Olympic Park in London.