At the start of this year, a British businessman named Adam Robson received some awful news. Mr Robson runs an English company called Torotrak that invents fuel-saving contraptions aimed at solving one of the auto industry’s great dilemmas: how to make a petrol car that is green enough to meet tightening pollution rules but does not feel like a lawnmower to drive.
One of Torotrak’s most promising gadgets has long been the V-Charge, a smarter version of a turbocharger that took six years to develop. In the middle of last year, Mr Robson began pitching it to the world’s top auto component and carmakers, including General Motors, Volkswagen and Toyota. About a dozen said they were interested. But by January, things changed. Company after company turned him down. Suddenly, none wanted new products for cars running on fossil fuels.
“They all said, ‘We think the shift to electric vehicles is accelerating and we have only limited R&D money to invest and we are going to put all of it into the electric car revolution’,” Mr Robson says. “This is a colossal structural shift and it’s come at a pace that has never occurred in people’s careers before in this industry.” Torotrak was hit hard. Its shares plunged 40 per cent. It has shut down one of its main engineering sites, making about 40 staff redundant, and put the V-Charge on ice. It is now focusing on heavy-duty diggers and other gear it hopes will not go electric any time soon.
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