Innovation in the automotive sector - A long term vision

By Miriam Dalli, MEP (pictured)
Summer 2019

Miriam Dalli, Member of the European ParliamentThere are some in Europe who think that the decarbonisation of Europe’s roads is some type of an unachievable utopia – dreamt about by a handful of idealistic environmental activists.

I believe it could not be further from the truth. We need to face inconvenient truths about growing vehicle emissions and degrading air quality. We need to understand the changing competitiveness landscape of the automotive sector. Innovation is not utopia.

Innovation is the future. Innovation is something we can make happen. The past ten years have been all about innovation in the energy sector; more and more renewables and decentralisation and decarbonisation of the electricity generation in Europe – and it happened. Science, technology with the good combination of great efforts in R&D and supportive policy measures made us achieve a real change in the energy sector. It is not a utopia any more.

Now, it is the transport sector’s turn. The challenge and the main drivers are similar – if not the same. It is about putting the sector on the decarbonisation track; about new business models and new, changing consumption patterns. It is about a new, sustainable and more competitive European economy.

When I took on the negotiations of the legislative file on post 2020 CO2 standards for cars and vans, I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve and my resolve strengthened the more I held meetings with the carmakers, technical experts, social partners, consumer organisations and environmental NGOs.

I wanted to push innovation in the European automotive sector in order to increase its future competitiveness and to strengthen decarbonisation efforts.

What we have in front of us, I believe, is the opportunity to harness a global challenge and put Europe’s car manufacturing industry at the forefront before other continents take over.

Reducing CO2 emissions in the transport sector is an opportunity on multiple fronts: safeguarding the climate and environment, reducing the impact of pollution on our health, increasing the supply of clean vehicles on the market, making them more affordable for consumers, investing in infrastructure to make the transition happen, boosting innovation and competitiveness and investing even more in our workers.

The decarbonisation of the transport sector would also be in line with the commitments under the Paris Agreement, which is key as the European Union has placed itself as “a leader” in the fight against climate change.

Such a fight cannot take place only on paper, but requires concrete and meaningful action from us all, including policy-makers, industry players, institutional stakeholders and consumers, as well.

In a perfect scenario, we would look at the life-cycle of all transport modes, including land, water and air use. However, given the scale of change that is needed, it is important to focus on transport sectors where new technologies are available on larger scale already today.

Here, we need both a technology push and a strong policy push, too.

We know – from past experiences – that in case of new technologies being a promising disruptive solution might not be enough. This is of course also true for new transport technologies.

The players in the field of e-mobility are often separated in opposing camps with great market power. Additionally, old business models are being challenged by a new way of thinking.

I believe that regulation and policymakers can make a real difference here. They have an important job in this process. Regulation gives clarity and adds trust, which is key for success. In the upcoming years, it is about bringing the technology world and regulation together.

I can’t emphasise enough that EU decision-making has already proved that it can make the positive link towards decarbonisation between industry and society. It is happening in the energy sector. What we want now is to transfer this political will, experience and knowledge to making this happen in the transport sector.

Electromobility, as one of the key solutions is already happening. We are starting to have more and more clean vehicles on the road, and electric bikes are becoming more popular. Eventually, developments in battery and fuel cell technologies are expected to result in a quicker increase in market shares for zero and low-emission vehicles in the coming years.

The EU car industry will have to consider adapting to changing demands and focus more on developing these new technologies. This will require more focus on innovation to retain competitiveness, but also, manufacturing electric batteries and chargers will provide economic and employment opportunities.

This innovation will shape our future for good – it is not only an economic opportunity Europe should not miss, but also the responsibility we have towards future generations. It is about the air they will breath and the climate they will be living in.

The decision is on us today, and the time for action is now. Decarbonising the road transport is not utopia – but an achievable reality.

We need small revolutions in policy-making, in investment decisions, in the operation of the financial markets, in energy and transport technologies. Politics need to trigger this change and policy-makers need to encourage and stimulate this new economy.

We need to rethink our economic paradigm. We need to embrace sustainability. We need to encourage and push innovation in new technologies. This is what I believed in and what I worked and fought for during this major EU legislation.