Drive for the future – sustainable vehicle design

10 June 2014

As overcapacity presents a number of challenges to automotive manufacturers, coupled with the fleet manager’s demand for reductions in CO2 emissions, many are responding with more innovative, greener vehicle designs. Michael Wood discusses the latest developments with Erik Jonnaert, secretary-general of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA).

Michael Wood: Tell us a bit about the European Automobile Manfacturer's Association (ACEA) and how you have continued the good work of your predecessor?

Erik Jonnaert: The ACEA has been working in its current form for more than two decades. Over that time, it has established a reputation for technical and policy expertise in all matters relating to the European automobile industry. Ivan Hodac's 12-year tenure as secretary-general of ACEA saw the association consolidate this leadership role.

As secretary-general, I will ensure that ACEA's central role in the policy debate continues, and that we can build on the existing work of the association by reinforcing a positive image of the automobile industry in Europe's ongoing environmental and industrial policy debates.

Could you outline some of the statistics you have regarding the European automotive market, particularly regarding corporate fleets and electric vehicles?

The automobile industry is competing to offer attractive, electrically chargeable vehicles while maintaining high safety and comfort standards. One major challenge among many is reducing the cost of the vehicle, and the battery system in particular.

As yet, electric convenience vehicle (ECV) take-up has been relatively low; it was around 27,000 for 2012 in the EU. Estimates from consultants Frost & Sullivan suggest that there were 190,000 sales of ECVs globally, with around 50,000 in the EU.

ACEA expects electric vehicle registrations to make up 2-8% of total sales by 2025. This estimated growth rate is based on a number of factors:

  • Customers will have to get used to some specific characteristics of the new technologies, such as different driving or recharging requirements. The education and information of customers will have to involve all players concerned.
  • The energy sector will have to build a suitable recharging infrastructure, as this will be the prerequisite for customers' acceptance of electrically chargeable vehicles.
  • National governments need to provide appropriate market incentives, particularly during the introduction of this new technology to the market. New technologies generally first come in low volumes and at a significant cost premium, and this needs to be offset by a positive policy framework.
  • Standardisation bodies and the industry need to agree quickly on standards and common interfaces, vehicle-to-grid infrastructure, for example, to avoid a fragmented pattern of locally competing and incompatible solutions. The goal must be to establish EU-wide - and, if possible - worldwide standards.

What is the life cycle of the average fleet car today and how does it compare with vehicles of private customers?

We have no information on fleet vehicles. The average age of a car in Europe was 8.3 years in 2010 - 32.3% of cars were under five years old, 32.1% of cars were between five and ten years old, and 35.6% of vehicles were over ten years old.

What are the key areas you are lobbying in at the present time?

ACEA works on a diverse range of industrial policy, environmental and sustainable mobility issues. Recent areas of interest have included CO2 targets for various types of motor vehicle, noise regulations, eCall and vehicle connectivity.

"Environmentally friendly, safe and sustainable mobility is a goal for European auto makers, not just an aspiration."

Of particular recent interest is the latest round of trade negotiations that the European Commission has embarked upon. Examples of these include the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and the EU-Japan free-trade area talks. ACEA has long been vocal in its support for fair, balanced and reciprocal trade deals, as these provide an opportunity for European manufacturers to diversify their economic base and to grow outside of Europe.

Can you tell us more about the CARS 2020 action plan?

The industry's short-term recommendations to policymakers, based on the European Commission's CARS 2020 action plan, are:

  • to drive innovation by creating a pro-innovation, technology-neutral regulatory environment
  • to foster growth through international trade, by ensuring there are mutually anticipated benefits and a level playing field when negotiating free-trade agreements
  • to build a supportive regulatory framework by reducing the regulatory burden and cost of doing business in Europe
  • to anticipate and manage change, including mitigating the social and economic impact of restructuring, and improving labour flexibility.

The four key policy priority areas are further detailed are the ACEA website.

How are you are helping drive safe and sustainable mobility, for example, in terms of charging stations for EVs?

Environmentally friendly, safe and sustainable mobility is a goal for European auto makers, not just an aspiration. However, it is clear that a model of sustainable mobility cannot emerge from technology alone. A little like a jigsaw, there are many pieces that must be joined together to form a complete picture.

The automotive sector recognises its role. Investments in vehicle technology, intelligent transport systems and cleaner production processes have already played a significant part in cutting emissions and improving safety.

However, it is clear that the interdependent challenges of matching economic growth with environmental improvements and improved social responsibility can only be fully realised through a more collaborative approach.

An example of this is EV charging points: the automobile industry has agreed on a standardised connection for the charging of electric vehicles. However, vehicle manufacturers are not in the business of infrastructure installation, so this phase has to be carried out by infrastructure providers.

Governments, fuel companies, associated industries and end users must also play their part. Working together, we can continue to enjoy the benefits of personal mobility and the economic prosperity that vehicles bring, while minimising the cost of motoring to society and the environment.

How practical will reducing overcapacity be in reality? How do you see the European automotive market evolving in the near future and what technological innovations are most exciting to your members at the moment?

Now, more than ever, the industry needs a supportive framework and a strong industrial policy in order to keep production and jobs in Europe. ACEA therefore welcomes the European Commission's recent Communication on Industrial Policy, as well as CARS 2020, the action plan that it launched in late 2012 to promote a competitive and sustainable automotive industry in Europe. The Industrial Policy and CARS 2020 communications put the focus on developing long-term policies and facilitating investments for the future. Recent events show that the car industry in the EU is undergoing an important process of adaptation and restructuring. The EU should urgently use all the means at its disposal to mitigate the social and economic consequences.

In particular, it should explore ways to translate the industry's sustainable mobility efforts from the drawing board to the road. Supporting the industry by promoting the uptake of new vehicles makes sense economically and ecologically.

Connectivity - the ability to connect cars to telecoms networks and to each other - opens up opportunity for manufacturers to provide tailor-made services to users and make whole road networks smarter.

An integrated intelligent transportation system, with advanced connected vehicles and infrastructure, could revolutionise urban mobility, making it cleaner, safer and more efficient to travel within and between cities.

Finally, smarter, more coordinated and streamlined regulation is needed to reinforce the industry's competitiveness and benefit the European economy as a whole. For the industry - and the 12 million people who work in it - an industrial policy that delivers a sustainable commercial environment while making the latest clean and smart vehicles available affordably to consumers is win-win.

Erik Jonnaert joined ACEA in October 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Ghent, Belgium, and Harvard Law School, US. Previously, he worked for Procter & Gamble for more than 25 years, gaining global experience in public affairs, regulatory affairs, communications and stakeholder relations.