Keeping mobility affordable will become a crucial question – Newsletter Editorial December 2020

People cherish the freedom, comfort, and safety of their cars, and more goods than ever are being delivered to our doorsteps each and every day. COVID-19 has, apart from the pressure it’s been showing on the planet’s ecosystem, also firmly underlined the role transport plays in keeping society running. Europe’s ‘sustainable and smart mobility strategy’, published yesterday, acknowledges this. But the jury remains out on whether the right balance has been struck between the economy and the environment.

The strategy lists over 80 actions in 10 categories, announcing a ‘new type of mobility’: affordable, accessible in both cities and rural areas, clean, climate proof, comfortable, and efficient. Cars will still have a role to play and trucks will still be needed, underlined both Climate Commissioner Timmermans and Transport Commissioner Valean. But logistics will become smarter, freight will find its way increasingly to rail, and cars will be less dominant on the roads. Of those driving around, 30 million – which is ten percent – will be electric by 2030, the strategy proclaims.

No doubt, the EU needs to have a strong vision on the future of transport. The strategy rightly promotes a holistic view on the sustainable transport and mobility needs of society and the impact of policy measures on people’s lives and livelihoods. Valean highlighted the magnitude of transport – Europeans travelled some 6,000 billion kilometres in 2019 – citing that mobility is often the second largest expenditure in a household.

No doubt, the EU needs to have a strong vision on the future of transport

But the mantra ‘no one should be left behind’ needs considerably more elaboration in all of the EU’s policy proposals. How to actually keep our mobility affordable is set to become a crucial question in the years to come. The ‘just transition’ needs some legs to stand on as well. Regarding the impact of the green transition on employment, it does not suffice to simply state that electrification creates new jobs. It does, but it also costs jobs. This is where the need for a well-managed transition comes in.

“The car industry will flourish in Europe”, said Timmermans, emphasising the word ‘will’. CLEPA stresses, in response, that this statement needs to be more than wishful thinking. The industry transformation is underway, heavy investments are made, the technology options are clear. But the policy measures announced so far do not take industrial considerations into account much.

Yesterday’s strategy used the opportunity to beat the by-now-familiar Green Deal drums: the technology solution favoured by policy makers is electric.

Yes, so the strategy upholds: maintaining technology-neutrality across all modes is key – to then state that this should not lead to inaction on eliminating fossil fuel-based solutions. With the need to respect the principle of technology-neutrality, electricity and hydrogen are seen as the most promising options, so the paper posits.

Hence, by June 2021, the Commission will be revising its CO2 standards for cars and vans in order to ensure a clear pathway from 2025 onwards towards ‘zero-emission mobility’. The Commission will do the same for heavy duty vehicles in 2022.

The term zero-emission mobility continues to be the preferred one, although it disregards the carbon emissions during energy generation, as well as vehicle and battery production. ‘Zero-emission’ is now also applied when discussing policy for pollutant emissions, or ‘euro 7’ in technical policy speak, mixing up distinct regulations with a single stroke of the pen.

The policy measures announced so far do not take industrial considerations into account much

This, in fact, is the kind of detail that matters a great deal and ultimately translates into engineering targets, product portfolios, and the extent to which jobs will be maintained, relocated, or transformed.

CLEPA responded to the publication yesterday with its own messages once more. A manageable transition, for the climate, industry, and employment rests on competitive technologies such as the internal combustion engine, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell, and battery electric vehicles. Climate-neutral internal combustion with fuels from sustainable renewable sources is a viable option as part of the overall mix of solutions.

Only a transformation that is industrially successful and socially accepted can be sustainable politically and achieve the climate neutrality objective. A strategy built exclusively on battery and fuel cell electric vehicles contradicts the principle of technology openness and will neither achieve carbon neutrality nor support European competitiveness.

Automotive suppliers fully support the Paris agreement and the objective of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The industry is also the one providing the technology solutions that will ultimately allow these goals to be realised. We will now scrutinise the communication in all its detail, and contribute to the detailed design of the rules, regulations, and definitions shaping the path forward.

In the meantime, we wish you a safe and healthy turn of the year!

Sigrid de Vries

CLEPA Secretary General


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