Portugal 2019 | INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

The automotive sector stimulates R&D and helps the Portuguese scientific ecosystem by promoting a series of innovative projects.

José Couto
José Couto has always been in the industrial sector and served as manager, member of the board, angel investor, and venture capitalist, and has extensive experience in business associations. At a regional level, he leads the Conselho Empresarial do Centro (the Business Council for the Central Region of Portugal) is a member of the board of the Confederation of Portuguese Businesses at the national one. Since 2016, he has been the president of the Board of Directors of MOBINOV-Associaçao do Cluster da Indústria Automóvel.

What are the main factors behind the growth of the automotive industry, and how has the sector evolved in terms of employment and value addition?

The cluster represents 6% of GDP and is an important part of the GNP, with over EUR11 billion. It employs over 75,000 workers and contributes approximately 16% of value addition in Portugal. A small number of companies have an important share, representing around 20% of the exports of Portuguese goods. The cluster is made up of 1,000 companies, including many large ones. There are five automakers, a pool of companies that are manufacturers, some 400 companies related to molds, and another 400 companies making components for the automobile industry. Of this entire pool of companies, 98% of production is exported. The automobile industry in Portugal is growing because the component makers to the sector have grow 7% per year for the last five years, which is more than in Europe, whose industry grew much less. The destination of Portuguese exports is mainly European, especially Spain and Germany, because Germany is the largest automobile producer in Europe, followed by Spain. There is also South America, which is a growing market, Mexico, and Brazil, where Grupo Simoldes has made an important investment.

What trans-sectoral synergies does the cluster benefit from?

The automotive sector stimulates R&D and helps the scientific ecosystem by promoting a series of innovative projects. The auto industry is a partner of the scientific system, not only universities but also polytechnics, similar to Europe. We need to ensure an easier flow from universities to the auto industry in terms of R&D. The automotive market is rapidly evolving, and we need cars that respond to those needs. But the industry's timing does not necessarily match the timing of universities, so it is a learning process we are still developing.

What success stories exemplify the sector's potential?

Our success is connected to our capacity to do well; it is not just about pricing and costs because these international companies are looking for more than that. There must also be competitive advantages. When it comes to human resources, this is related to the quality of our development and ability to industrially transform any project. All these well-qualified people and companies can respond to the challenges from the world's largest automotive players. They benefit us and make Portugal a target of interest in terms of global automotive industry investment. Some of our costs are lower than Europe's, though this does not make a difference. Portugal might sometimes have a lower level of productivity in comparison to certain countries; but the productivity of our auto industry is almost double that of the rest of Portuguese industry. This means we have companies that are extremely competitive, as a result of which we are able to grow 7% per annum. The capacities that do not vanish with time are technology, expertise, and a commitment to quality production.

What is Microplasticos' role in producing high-precision plastics for advanced industrial applications?

Microplasticos is able to meet the more complicated challenges from clients and invests a large amount of knowledge into projects. It can manage from the very conception of an idea, all the way to actually transforming it into a viable project. For a long time, Microplasticos has invested in R&D; hence, we are capable of responding to clients' needs and try to be the best at that, which is our core business. We produce a wide variety of components and try to be better than our competitors. Our competition is in Europe, so we must focus on our competitive advantages and stay one step ahead with technology.