Volkswagen puts Herbert Diess in the driving seat

Volkswagen has replaced its chief executive with Herbert Diess, who takes on responsibility for the entire company after overseeing the VW brand.

He takes over from Matthias Mueller, who was appointed in 2015 at the height of the diesel emissions scandal.

Mr Diess has clashed with unions and is known for his cost-cutting measures.

The move is part of sweeping changes announced by the German company, which also owns several other brands including Audi and Porsche.

The carmaker said it will reorganise its 12 brands by creating six new vehicle divisions and a special arm devoted to China, its largest market.

More details about the restructuring are expected to be revealed at a press conference at VW’s Wolfsburg headquarters on Friday morning.

The management shake-up signals VW’s desire to move forward from the emissions scandal and press on with its “Strategy 2025” plan to build greener vehicles.

Mr Mueller had been running Porsche before being elevated to replace Martin Winterkorn as VW chief.

He has presided over a wide ranging restructuring of the company and its other brands.

However, in May 2017 prosecutors in Stuttgart said they were investigating Mr Mueller over suspicions he may have known about the diesel cheating before it became public.

The scandal, in which VW installed emissions-cheating software in 11 million vehicles worldwide, has cost the firm at least $30bn (£22.4bn) in fines and other costs.

As well as cars, the VW empire spans motorbikes, bus, and truck operations. Its brands also include Bentley, Scania, Skoda and Ducati.

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        VW chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch said in a statement that Mr Mueller had done “outstanding work” for the company.

        The statement continued: “He assumed the chairmanship of the board of management in the fall of 2015 when the company faced the greatest challenge in its history.

        “Not only did he safely navigate Volkswagen through that time, together with his team, he also fundamentally realigned the group’s strategy.”

        ‘Man of action’

        However, Mr Mueller was seen by critics as having failed to refocus the group’s portfolio of brands, a key pillar of “Strategy 2025” to transform the company into a leader in cleaner cars after the diesel scandal.

        Some analysts cheered the appointment of Mr Diess.

        “Diess is a man of action, he is the most plausible choice at VW to lead the group into the next phase of its transformation,” said Nord LB analyst Frank Schwope.

        VW also announced that works council executive Gunnar Kilian would replace Karlheinz Blessing as human resources chief.

        And the chief executive of Porsche, Oliver Blume, will join the main VW board.

China’s Uber has plans to take on the rest of the world

You’ve probably already heard of China’s Didi Chuxing. It’s the ride-hailing firm best known for driving Uber off China’s streets.

It is now also the world’s largest ride-hailing app, and with its worth currently at $56bn (£39.4bn), it is also the world’s most valuable start-up.

But how much do you know about its enigmatic, low-key founder, Cheng Wei?

Well for a start, he’s only 35 years old.

“I was born in 1983,” he tells me as we walk around the massive Didi complex on a chilly Beijing morning.

It is his first TV interview with foreign media.

“My entire management team has a lot of people in their 30s,” he says. “We are idealistic and can be rash sometimes, but we also bring a lot of surprises.”

No-one could accuse Cheng Wei of being rash. Every step of the Didi journey has been well planned.

His first step was to rule the market in China.

His next step, he tells me, is to take over the world: “The Chinese market is of course very important, but today Didi’s vision is already going global.”

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    But Cheng Wei is quick to point out that Didi’s way of entering new markets is not what most in the West may be used to.

    “Didi’s global strategy may be a little different from others,” he says, smiling. “Our strategy isn’t always to do everything ourselves.”

    “But in markets where there aren’t any successful local companies, then Didi will enter that market to share our experience. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

    Global market moves

    Precisely and methodically, Didi is making its move into global markets.

    It has already entered Japan and Taiwan. And earlier this year, it acquired 99, Brazil’s leading ride-hailing app.

    Just this week, the company told the BBC it was also launching in Mexico. The move will set it up to compete against its old American nemesis – Uber – right in that firm’s own backyard.

    But expanding internationally for Didi may not be all that easy, simply because of the suspicions Chinese companies sometimes face when they try to go overseas.

    Take Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, for instance.

    Earlier this year, Huawei said it was not able to strike a deal to sell its new smartphone via a US carrier, over security concerns.

    The scuppered deal was just the latest example of a Chinese firm struggling to do business in the US.

    Huawei hit back and said that the reason the US wanted to keep it out of the country was because it is too competitive.

    But many US politicians and businesses believe that Chinese companies have been given an unfair advantage by their government.

    Some also say that Chinese companies that deal in data, as Didi does, hand that data back to the Chinese government – a perception Cheng Wei is quick to correct.

    “When American companies first entered China, there were also these concerns,” he says.

    “Whether you’re Chinese or American, data is the lifeline of any business. If you can’t guarantee data security, that’s going to be totally destructive for the business.”

    Not old China

    Cheng Wei is very much the face of new China.

    He’s quietly confident, with the conviction to carry out what he wants to achieve. And he’s got the cash to splash on ambitious plans for the future.

    “This is not old China. This is a new generation, ” says Chris DeAngelis, who routinely advises Western companies coming into China.

    “The US needs to wake up because right now, we’re going to get our asses kicked basically,” adds Chris, speaking of the prowess that Chinese tech firms such as Didi have over American ones.

    But Cheng Wei isn’t losing any sleep over the US-China rivalry.

    “For the past two decades, it was China who learned more from the US,” he says. “But in the next 10 years, we’ll ride on each other’s successes. There’s no point thinking who will surpass who.”

    Watch out world, Didi is coming.

    And you can watch the rest of Cheng Wei’s interview on BBC World’s Asia Tech Titans series this weekend at these times.

Jaguar Land Rover to shed 1,000 contract staff

Jaguar Land Rover says it will not be renewing the contracts of 1,000 temporary workers at two factories.

The UK’s biggest carmaker, owned by India’s Tata Motors, blamed “continuing headwinds” affecting the car industry.

It said it was continuing to recruit large numbers of engineers and apprentices and it remained committed to its UK plants.

Earlier this year, it said it would cut production amid uncertainty over Brexit and changes to taxes on diesel cars.

Those cuts were made at its Halewood plant in Merseyside. These jobs will go at the Solihull.

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    JLR was expected to announce the cuts on Monday, with Brexit and confusion over diesel cars again being cited as the chief reasons for the changes.

    JLR employs 40,000 people in the UK, 10,000 at Solihull.

    Professor of industry, David Bailey, from Aston University, said: “With the big turn against diesel engines, Jaguar Land Rover is particularly exposed as more than 90% of its UK sales are diesels.

    “JLR has just revealed its full-electric i-Pace model and have indicated offering all-electric or hybrid variants of all their models by around 2021, but they have been far too slow compared with Tesla and BMW.”

    He said the problems caused by Brexit were also unlikely to be solved in a timely manner: “It’s hard to say how long this production uncertainty will continue around Brexit negotiations, because it’s still unclear what the trading relationship will be between the UK and EU with regards to tariffs.”

    Analysis: Simon Jack, business editor

    JLR was very exposed to the demise of diesel. Recent figures from the trade body showed sales of diesels fell a whopping 37% in March compared with the previous year.

    Unhappily for JLR, 90% of its vehicles are powered by diesel engines and there are critical industry voices that say they have been slower than their rivals to embrace hybrids and electric.

    JLR Plants in China and Slovakia are increasing production, but company insiders were keen to stress that it would continue to invest in its UK plants and recently launched a drive to recruit another 5,000 engineers.

    Jaguar sales are down 26% so far this year, compared with last year, while demand for Land Rovers in the UK is down 20%.

    Last year, global sales hit a record, but the company acknowledged that the UK market was “tough”.

    Diesel registrations overall in the UK industry have plunged, down a third compared with January to March 2017

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Jaguar Land Rover’s diesel dependency

JLR was very exposed to the demise of diesel. Recent figures from the trade body showed sales of diesels fell a whopping 37% in March compared with the previous year.

Unhappily for JLR, 90% of its vehicles are powered by diesel engines and there are critical industry voices that say they have been slower than their rivals to embrace hybrids and electric.

JLR Plants in China and Slovakia are increasing production, but company insiders were keen to stress that it would continue to invest in its UK plants and recently launched a drive to recruit another 5,000 engineers.

All cylinders

The use of agency staff is fairly common in the automotive sector to cover periods of peak production and, until the diesel crisis hit, JLR had been firing on all cylinders with strong global demand for its vehicles.

The company said Brexit uncertainty had dented consumer confidence, but insiders conceded that the confusion over diesel was the most acute problem facing the company.

The automotive industry continues to insist that new, cleaner diesel cars are part of the pollution solution and critical to keeping CO2 emissions reduction targets within reach.

Lobbying groups are desperate for government ministers to deliver that message. However, central government has largely devolved responsibility on diesel policy to local authorities, saying they know best how to regulate their own pollution hotspots.

Confused

In London, for example, the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has proposed that diesel cars over four years old by April 2019 will then incur a charge of £12.50 a day for driving into the centre of the city – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Motorists who have been regularly hit with new regulations and tax changes are understandably nervous that the goalposts may be moved again in the future – on a city by city basis.

It’s little wonder they are confused and putting off purchases.

While this confusion reigns, diesel sales plummet, production falls with them and -inevitably – jobs are lost.

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London Stock Exchange names David Schwimmer as new boss

The London Stock Exchange has appointed a new chief executive to replace Xavier Rolet, who quit last November amid a bruising boardroom row.

David Schwimmer, who has spent 20 years at investment bank Goldman Sachs, will take up the post on 1 August.

The stock exchange described him as “a leader with great experience”.

Mr Rolet was asked to leave a year earlier than planned, with one of the firm’s biggest shareholders claiming he was forced out.

Under Mr Rolet’s leadership, the company’s value went from £800m to nearly £14bn, but press reports suggested some staff disliked his management style.

Following the row, the stock exchange announced that its chairman, Donald Brydon, who had faced a shareholder vote on the decision to remove Mr Rolet from the board, would step down in 2019.

Sir Chris Hohn, the hedge fund tycoon whose fund owns more than 5% of the LSE, had pushed for Mr Rolet to remain as the stock exchange’s boss and for Mr Brydon to leave instead.

‘Robust intellect’

Mr Brydon said he was “delighted” to announce Mr Schwimmer’s appointment after “a comprehensive global search”.

He added: “David is a leader with great experience in the financial market infrastructure sector, which he has been closely involved in throughout his investment banking career, as well as capital markets experience in both developed and emerging markets.

“He is well known for his robust intellect and partnership approach with clients and colleagues alike.”

Mr Schwimmer, aged 49, is currently Goldman Sachs’ global head of market structure and global head of metals and mining.

“It seems an odd choice to go for an investment banker with little experience in equities, though at least he and [Mr] Rolet have both worked for Goldman Sachs,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

“I’m sure he will be a good appointment, given his experience at Goldman Sachs, but why he won’t be joining until 1 August also seems rather odd.”

Analysis, Simon Jack, business editor

The appointment of ex-Goldman Sachs banker David Schwimmer brings down the final curtain on a leadership drama fit for the stage.

It started when predecessor Xavier Rolet – who increased the value of the business from £800m to £14bn – was ousted, to the disgust of some shareholders. In an extraordinary move, veteran activist investor Chris Cohn called for Mr Rolet to be reinstated and the chairman, Donald Brydon, sacked.

The mutiny failed and directors will hope that Mr Schwimmer can get on with the job of steering the LSE through some challenging waters ahead. The group also owns a clearing house – essentially a middle man where thousands of buy and sell orders in are matched to reduce the risk to customers of one side not being able to pay.

This is under attack from some in France and Germany who think the trillions of euro denominated trades cleared in London should be done in the EU. Mr Schwimmer will have a key role in the negotiations over London’s role in a post-Brexit world.

British Airways owner considers Norwegian bid

The owner of British Airways may bid for Norwegian Air Shuttle, the fast-expanding budget airline.

Buying the airline would allow International Airlines Group to increase its market share amid rising competition from low-cost carriers.

Norwegian said it had not been aware that IAG had acquired a 4.6% stake until media reports on Thursday.

Shares in Norwegian closed 47% higher after news of the bid interest emerged, while IAG fell 1.2%.

Norwegian said it has not held talks with IAG but said the interest “confirms the sustainability and potential of our business model and global growth”.

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    IAG said it had bought a minority stake in the airline with a view to opening talks about a deal.

    “The minority investment is intended to establish a position from which to initiate discussions with Norwegian, including the possibility of a full offer for Norwegian,” IAG said.

    However, it said no discussions have taken place and it had not decided whether to make an offer.


    Analysis: Simon Jack, BBC business editor

    Norwegian has been ruffling feathers in the aviation market, bringing a budget airline model to the long-haul sector. The industry is divided as to whether it works when you cross the Atlantic.

    Norwegian has bet big that it does. Starting life as a short-haul carrier, it has nearly 200 long-range aircraft on order and the legacy carriers have had to respond.

    IAG is dabbling with its own offshoot, Level, and BA announced cheaper fares for long-haul passengers not checking in bags and not wanting to choose a seat. Air France’s Joon is also trying to cut long-haul costs.

    Norwegian is still losing money and its finances are stretched by the number of planes it is buying, but today’s announcement from BA suggests Norwegian has proved the concept is sound.

    Whether passengers are best served by a legacy carrier swallowing a competitive upstart is another debate.


    Norwegian Air has earned a name for its low-cost deals, such as £99 one-way flights from Edinburgh and Dublin to New York.

    However, it posted a net loss in 2017 and had to raise fresh funds earlier this year to cope with its rapid expansion and higher fuel costs.

    Nevertheless, its move into discount intercontinental flights has shaken up the market and forced bigger rivals such as IAG and Air France to take measures to win back customers.

    IAG has already put a toe in the budget long-haul market with Level from Barcelona, while adding European airport slots from failed UK airline Monarch.

    ‘Poaching’

    IAG chief executive Willie Walsh has long been interested in low-cost long-haul concept long before it set up Level, said Liberum analyst Gerald Khoo.

    “This may be an attempt to accelerate its development, while also adding to the scale and reach of [IAG-owned] Vueling in the intra-European market.”

    This week, BA began selling “Basic” tickets from London to destinations including Boston, Delhi, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

    Fares start from £143, but passengers must pay £60 to check a bag and £20 for seat selection.

    Simon Calder, travel editor of the Independent, told the BBC: “The main purpose of this initial move is to get more competitive with Norwegian, which is building an extensive network from Gatwick and poaching passengers from British Airways. Most of the first 10 destinations are on the Norwegian network.”

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg to testify before US committee

Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is to testify before the US House Commerce Committee regarding the firm’s use and protection of user data.

Facebook has faced criticism after it emerged it had known for years that Cambridge Analytica had harvested data from about 50 million of its users.

He will testify before the committee on Wednesday, 11 April.

Committee chairman Greg Walden and member Frank Pallone welcomed the decision by Mr Zuckerberg.

“This hearing will be an important opportunity to shed light on critical consumer data privacy issues and help all Americans better understand what happens to their personal information online,” the pair said.

Facebook is facing scrutiny over its data collection following allegations that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, obtained data on tens of millions of Facebook users to try to influence elections.

Cambridge Analytica worked for US President Donald Trump’s campaign.

The company, funded in part by Trump supporter and billionaire financier Robert Mercer, paired consumer data with voter information.

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    Cambridge Analytica gathered the data through a personality test app, called This Is Your Digital Life, that was downloaded by fewer than 200,000 people.

    However, the app gave researchers access to the profiles of participants’ Facebook friends, allowing them to collect data from millions more users.

    Mr Walden and Mr Pallone said last month that they wanted to hear directly from Mr Zuckerberg after senior Facebook executives failed to answer questions during a private briefing with congressional staff about how Facebook and third-party developers use and protect consumer data.

    Facebook has also published new versions of its terms of service and data use policy.

    The firm said the documents were longer than the previous versions in order to make their language clearer and more descriptive.

    The data policy now states: “We don’t sell any of your information to anyone, and we never will.”

    However, this does not prevent the firm from using the data to let advertisers target their promotions. It will also continue to share anonymised analytics and insights with third-parties.

    Facebook will now carry out a week-long consultation before finalising the text and adopting it.

    ‘Breach of trust’

    Facebook, which has two billion users, is now one of the main ways politicians connect with voters. It has been looking to repair its public image and restore users’ trust since the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged.

    Facebook said last month that it had hired forensic auditors to examine if Cambridge Analytica still had the data.

    Mr Zuckerberg has apologised for a “breach of trust”, and taken out full-page advertisements in several UK and US Sunday newspapers.

    He has also said he welcomes more regulation.

    The US Senate commerce and judiciary committees also have requested that Mr Zuckerberg appear in front of them.

    And the US Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook engaged in unfair acts that caused substantial injury to consumers.

Vauxhall to build new Vivaro van at Luton

Vauxhall’s French parent company PSA has announced an investment in its Luton van-making plant which could eventually see Peugeot and Citroen-branded vans made in the UK.

PSA said Vauxhall’s next Vivaro van would be built at the Luton plant.

The investment, which PSA said it made “despite Brexit uncertainties”, secures 1,400 jobs beyond 2030.

However, the Unite union said there was still “a cloud hanging over” Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant.

The government said the investment is worth more than £100m in total. The Unite union estimates that figure to be up to £170m.

It was secured after a negotiation with the Unite union and a financial contribution from the government thought to be about £9m.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “Today’s decision is a vote of confidence in Vauxhall’s high-skilled workforce and the UK’s world leading automotive sector.”

In 2017, the Luton plant produced 70,000 Vauxhall Vivaro-branded vans.

The next-generation model will be based on PSA’s Citroen and Peugeot technology, and the company hopes to produce up to 100,000 vans a year, which could include some under the Peugeot and Citroen brands. The life-cycle of commercial vehicles is between 10 and 15 years.

If demand for the vehicles means that target is hit, then additional jobs will be created in Luton.

PSA bought General Motors’ European business last year, and there has been intense speculation about the future of both Luton and Ellesmere port, where the Vauxhall Astra is made.

Group chief executive Carlos Tavares said: “This is a major milestone for the future of the Luton plant and a key enabler to serve our ambitions in the commercial vehicle market.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The investment into Luton is very welcome, but we do expect to hear of similar plans for Ellesmere Port, where the workforce has been just as loyal and is just as deserving of a secure future but continues to live with a cloud hanging over it.”

Peugeot and Citroen have made inroads into the light commercial vehicle market, and accounted for half the increase in the total van market in Europe, which is why the company is looking to increase production capacity.

Company officials said it had the choice of Germany or Poland to base the new plant, but neither of those plants are equipped with a paint facility suitable for vans, and installing one would come at enormous cost.


Vauxhall UK manufacturing

  • Vauxhall employs 1,400 people at its Luton plant, which produces Vivaro vans
  • There has been a plant at Luton building vehicles since 1905
  • The firm has 1,300 employees at its Ellesmere Port plant, where the Vauxhall Astra is built
  • The Ellesmere Port plant has been running since 1962
  • Vauxhall has 3,400 employees overall

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Could non-alcoholic gin ever be as good as the real thing?

It’s 13:00 on a Wednesday lunchtime and in the Palace of Westminster, a very lively drinks party is in full swing.

In the gracious surroundings of the wood-panelled Jubilee Room, corks are popped, beer is guzzled and lemons fizz in free-flowing G&Ts.

But despite the prodigious volume of liquid being consumed, there aren’t any slurred words or collisions with furniture. That’s because, contrary to appearances, no alcohol is actually being drunk.

The event is co-organised by Club Soda, a “mindful drinking movement”, and is being held to showcase low and alcohol-free drinks.

The group, which has about 15,000 members, was co-founded by Jussi Tolvi and Laura Willoughby. Jussi still enjoys the odd alcoholic tipple, but Laura is teetotal.

“I gave up drinking six years ago and was stuck with a tonic or a really bad non-alcohol beer,” says Laura.

“There is demand for good products, but industry is taking time to catch up. Having said that, big companies like Heineken are spending money on creating a beer that tastes like their full-strength product and to me, this shows that it isn’t a fad, it’s a market shift.”

The demand appears to be borne out in the figures. The Office for National Statistics found that in 2016, 20.9% of Brits drank no alcohol, up two percentage points from 2005.

At the same time, CGA, a food and drink data firm, found that for the on-trade – that’s restaurants, bars and festivals etc – sales of no and lower alcohol beers, ciders, wines, spirits and mocktails were £232m in 2017. That’s up about 3% on the year before.

Among the MPs ploughing their way through booze-free tipples at the drinks event is Fiona Bruce MP, chair of the all-party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm.

“There are some lovely options: prosecco, G&T, ale and lager,” she says. “Later, I’m going to be able to go into the chamber of the House of Commons this afternoon and not be in the least bit woozy.”

Botanical buzz

Intrigued, I try a “teetotal G&T” from the Temperance Spirit Company. It’s sold 500,000 bottles in the last year and is one of a new breed of adult-focused soft drinks.

Served over ice and with a slice of cucumber, it looks the part. But after the first sip, I’m not convinced; it lacks that deliciously dry bite of the real thing.

Company director Gillian Venning encourages me to persevere: “It takes a while for the flavour to come through, but you’ll soon start to taste the botanicals.”

The juniper does indeed creep up on me and although that warm ginny buzz is missing, it’s far more interesting than the lemonades and colas normally on offer for non-drinkers.

So why are people drinking less? Jane Peyton, founder of the School of Booze, says there are several reasons: “I recently went to a mindful drinking festival and some people said they weren’t drinking because they were pregnant, for others it was religion, but for many it was for health reasons.”

Jane’s last point chimes with the revelation that during this year’s Winter Olympics, German athletes drank gallons of imported non-alcoholic beer.

According to skier Linus Strasser, “It tastes good and it’s good for the body. Alcohol-free wheat beer is extremely healthy. It’s isotonic. That’s why it’s good for us sports guys.”

‘Good karma’

This is music to the ears of Steve Dass, co-founder of Nirvana Brewery. “We’re the UK’s only alcohol-free brewery,” he says.

“It’s a holistic movement, we’re all vegetarian, we hardly drink, it’s about good vibes, good karma and we also have yoga sessions in the brewery.”

But do they have good beer? Steve pours me a pint of Karma, a pale ale with an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 0.5%.

It’s billed as “light, refreshing, with classic citrus and floral hop aromas leading to a dry bitter finish”.

As a fan of big, flavourful beers, I like the taste, but it doesn’t have the all-important body.

Next up is Chakra, “a hopped pale ale with fresh notes of passion fruit, pine & a light bitter finish”.

This is more like it. At 1% ABV it drinks more like something akin to 3.5% and I reckon I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in a blind tasting.

“Not being able to tell the difference” is something The Big Drop Brewing Co’s Chocolate Milk Stout has arguably managed to achieve; it won a silver medal in the 2017 World Beer Awards in competition against full-strength rivals.

Delicate and refined

Although beer is one of the most visible parts of the low and no-alcohol market, the sector in general can be hugely innovative.

Zoe Burgess is head of research and development at the Drink Factory, a bar group and consultancy. At a laboratory in East London, she creates both regular and alcohol-free products.

“The key to making good non-alcoholic drinks is to pay as much attention to them as alcoholic drinks, keeping them delicate, refined, using beautiful glasses,” she says. “There’s no reason they should be treated any differently.”

Zoe takes a bag of yellowish liquid from the fridge.

“This is pear shrub syrup. We take whole pears which we slice and cover in caster sugar for a day, add verjus, which is a very delicate vinegar, blend and strain.

“This creates a fine syrup which captures the balance of the pear. We top it up with soda to get that lovely sparkle.”

Zoe and her team work with some of the world’s most exclusive bars, but non-alcoholic alternatives are also becoming more popular in mainstream outlets. Bar chain Be At One offers nine alcohol-free cocktails.

“In the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve seen a growth in demand for drinks which are more like cocktails,” says area manager Tim Sparrow.

“Customers are coming out with friends or work colleagues, so we’re dealing with social experiences as much as the drinks themselves. People don’t want to feel as though they’re being left out just because they’re not drinking.”

‘More fun’

As a designated driver, TV and radio presenter, Susannah Streeter is often left drinking Virgin Marys and she’s keen to try something different, so she joins me in a tasting at the chain’s Soho branch. Her verdict is mixed.

First up is the Botanical: Seedlip Garden 108 non-alcoholic spirit plus egg white, apple juice and sugar syrup.

“It’s made my eyebrows stand on end! It’s got a kick to it and it looks like a champagne cocktail. I also like the glass it’s served in.”

The Passionate Pomme is up next, a blend of passion fruit, manuka honey, pomegranate and coconut water.

“I’m not keen, it’s sweet and syrupy, a bit like Ribena.”

We finish with a Bean: coffee, cream and almond syrup.

“It’s quite substantial and I’d get one as a treat, it’s more fun than a lime and soda.”

So would Susannah order a non-alcoholic cocktail in a bar?

“Yes, if I’d had enough to drink already or I was driving. The choice is usually really boring, so it’s nice to have some options.”

Reaping the wind with the biggest turbines ever made

When engineer Lukasz Cejrowski finally saw the world’s largest wind turbine blades installed on a prototype tower in 2016, he stood in front of it and took a selfie. Obviously.

“It was amazing,” he says, recalling the moment with a laugh. “The feeling of happiness – ‘Yes, it works, it’s mounted.'”

Those blades, made by Danish firm LM Wind Power, were a record-breaking 88.4m (290ft) long – bigger than the wingspan of an Airbus A380, or nearly the length of two Olympic-sized swimming pools. The swept area of such a mammoth rotor blade would cover Rome’s Colosseum.

But things move quickly in the wind turbine industry.

In just a few years, those blades could be surpassed by the company’s next project – 107m-long blades.

LM Wind Power is owned by global engineering firm General Electric (GE), which announced in March that it hopes to develop a giant 12MW (megawatt) wind turbine by the year 2020.

A single turbine this size, standing 260m tall, could produce enough electricity to power 16,000 households.

The world’s current largest wind turbine is a third less powerful than that, generating 8MW. Various companies, including Siemens, are working on turbines around the 10MW mark.

When it comes to wind turbines, it seems, size matters.

This is because bigger turbines capture more wind energy and do so at greater altitudes, where wind production is more consistent.

But designing and manufacturing blades of this size is a significant feat of engineering.

Mr Cejrowski says that the firm could in theory use metal, but the blades would be extremely expensive and heavy. Instead, they use a mix of carbon and glass fibre.

First, they make a glass-fibre and polyester shell for each blade – in two halves. Then the spar cap is added. That’s a length of reinforcing material that runs down the inside of each of these halves.

For this, Mr Cejrowski’s team uses a glass-carbon composite fabric, infused with a special resin that hardens in place.

These ultra-large blades are extensively tested. Prototypes are bent, stretched, buffeted in wind tunnels and, during “fatigue tests”, flexed back and forth quickly millions of times to simulate a lifetime of use. They’re also tested against lightning strike.

The world’s biggest wind turbines are generally installed offshore rather than on land. That way, they avoid being gigantic eyesores in our midst and are able to harness the powerful winds out at sea.

On 17 March, more than a third of domestic electricity generation in Britain was achieved with wind power, the National Grid reported. This is a record.

The potential of offshore wind has prompted some to draw up plans for future windfarms on an enormous scale, in waters many miles from land.

  • Offshore wind cheaper than new nuclear

    US researchers recently showed that a huge amount of untapped energy could be harnessed by building a giant windfarm in the North Atlantic.

    Separately, Dutch firm TenneT has developed a concept for a very large windfarm that could be built at Dogger Bank, an area of shallow water in the North Sea.

    It would include a man-made island where substations could be located and, with many hundreds of turbines, supply power to countries including the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

    In total, it could have a capacity of some 30GW (gigawatts), the company says.

    To put that in context, the average electricity demand for the whole of the UK is 36GW.

    Henrik Stiesdal, a former chief engineer at Siemens’ wind power division who now works at Danish Technical University, says there are numerous advantages to building supersized offshore farms like this – even cosmetic benefits.

    “If you’re more than 40km (25 miles) out, the curvature of the earth means the turbines will be below the horizon,” he says.

    Mr Stiesdal says various organisations, including his own institution and the University of Oxford, are working on ways to make offshore wind turbine foundations cheaper.

    One idea is to develop floating platforms that would be cheaper to manufacture in large quantities in factories.

    But if the cost of foundations does come down, it could then be cost-effective to install larger numbers of smaller turbines rather than fewer big ones.

    “The chasing of the big machines will continue only as long as the infrastructure costs are high,” he explains.

    For this reason, wind turbines are unlikely to exceed the 12MW models, he believes.

    One downside of building offshore windfarms with many smaller turbines, though, is that there are many more individual bits of equipment needing to be serviced and maintained out at sea, where the conditions can often be inhospitable, to say the least.

    For the more immediate future, expect to see offshore wind farms continue to multiply, especially in Europe, says Joel Meggelaars at industry association Wind Europe.

    “GE is definitely the biggest announcement that we’ve seen so far,” he says, referring to the planned 12MW turbine.

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