Being agnostic about technology
Sustainable, safe and smart mobility: this is, in short, the aspiration of the automotive supply industry and therefore also the motto of the CLEPA Policy Conference and Annual Reception on 11 April in Brussels. The key ingredient to achieve sustainable, safe and smart mobility from a policy perspective, is to be agnostic about technology: to set goals and targets but to refrain from prescribing how to actually get there.
Automotive suppliers are technology solution providers and pride themselves on the innovative force they bring to light on a daily basis. Over 22 billion euro each year is spent on research & development to make road transport cleaner, safer and more efficient as well as connected, cooperative, automated and thus more ‘smart’.
Some of these technologies will be on show during the 11 April event, to present what is available and around the corner when it comes to future mobility. Others are referred to in the new position paper CLEPA just published on the revision of the General Safety Regulation, on which news is expected from the European Commission early May. CLEPA strongly promotes the inclusion of effective and cost-efficient safety measures, already available in the market, that would bring tangible benefits by reducing road fatalities and injury mitigation. The swift deployment of Connected and Automated Driving (CAD) depends on the broad application of the state-of-the-art safety technologies too.
The industry is equally committed to achieving the objectives of the Paris agreement by providing a host of technology solutions and supports the design of an efficient and effective regulatory framework which reduces CO2 as well as pollutant emissions and embraces the competitiveness of a vital part of the European industry.
The post-2020 CO2 reduction target for cars and vans proposed by the European Commission will force a major change in the automotive landscape – in the industry as well as on the roads — and deliver substantially towards meeting the Paris climate objectives. But, if not managed well, there’s a risk of major disruption in the automotive manufacturing base, in particular among mid-sized and smaller suppliers, the backbone of the industry. The question is not if to reach the targets, but how.
The legislative proposal is implicitly biased towards battery-electric vehicles. In CLEPA’s view, instead, every gramme of CO2 reduction should count and no technology should be discriminated against.
For city mobility, battery-electric cars are often the most logical solution. For longer-distance trips, other solutions will often be more apt. And in many instances electrification and the combustion engine will go hand-in-hand: a mild-hybrid can drive emissions-free in the city, supporting air quality targets, and drive CO2-efficient on the highway due to the lighter battery and vehicle as a whole.
It’s technology diversity that can tailor for the complex mobility needs and, in concert, drive emissions down. It’s not necessarily wise to put all eggs in one basket. Whereas combustion engines had over a centenary to develop, electric vehicle technology, especially for longer-distance traffic, is less mature.
Not all options have been explored or mass-market tested. Not all questions have been answered regarding the environmental footprint of battery production, the billions of investments required in new charging infrastructure and the uncertainties with regard to renewable energy generation. Why not consider the various other options for electrification of the powertrain as well, or take investment seriously in carbon-neutral fuels?
CLEPA members are technology agnostic. Electrification, combustion-based technology, renewable fuels: they are all part of the solution, and should all be recognised for their benefits — in Europe as much as they are elsewhere in the world. Also in China, the electric vehicle market is found mostly in the city areas and, as soon as you go outside, the combustion engine prevails, because of its efficiency, flexibility and available infrastructure. China has no competitive combustion vehicle industry. They invest in electric vehicles as, industrially, they don’t have many other options. Europe has plenty.
Crucially, these solutions should be developed, industrialised and manufactured in Europe. In Europe, today, around one in three jobs in the automotive industry relate to a lesser or greater extent to the combustion engine. These workers build the most efficient combustion engines in the world, underpinning the strong competitiveness of the European industry. Let’s make sure they keep supplying the global market with an increasingly sophisticated mix of technologies that deliver sustainable, safe and smart mobility.
Sigrid de Vries
In: CLEPA News