MOBILITY IS CHANGING FASTER AND FASTER, AND WE ARE NOT ONLY WITNESSES BUT ALSO ACTORS OF THIS CHANGE.
— In the last decades, the automotive industry has been strongly criticized for deteriorating the environment – especially for polluting the air. The automotive manufacturers have been trying their best to deal with this issue, producing vehicles which are more respectful of the environment. What is e-mobility?
I have just come back from NADA in Las Vegas, the annual meeting of National American Dealers Association. This event lasts 3-4 days and hosts workshops and a display area dedicated to services and tools for car dealers and the production chain. The topics of mobility and attention to the new consumers have been fundamental – both to the American and to the European market. The manufacturers have tried in vain to propose electric or at least hybrid cars. However, now thanks to some new hybrid vehicles, “pure” electric vehicles or new typologies of solid batteries, the market is ready to face the “electric revolution” of the automotive industry. Some skeptics say that it will take this revolution some decades to take place. But I think that the past is already here to tell us something different about how fast we can go to embrace a more sustainable mobility. New York in 1904 shows us a city where there were only coaches pulled by horses. That was the time when the first cars appeared, which the skeptics did not depict a rosy future for. Only one decade later, in 1917, there were just few coaches. Here you can see two emblematic shots of New York’s Fifth Avenue… before and after.
A change in the paradigm of the mobility was necessary to face the challenges caused by the climatic changes, by the rise of the oil prices, by the rising energy demand from the rising countries and their energy safety, and by the introduction of better and more reliable tools for measurement and for homologation. The whole industry has set some ambitious targets, which are even more ambitious if we consider that all the data and the pollution certifications are not always obtained in a transparent way – I think that the Volkswagen’s diesel-gate is common to many car manufacturers, which have not been caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
The car dealers have been looking for some innovative solutions in fields like the one of batteries, making the electric vehicles a concrete alternative for the first time. I am thinking of products like Nissan Leaf, which offers an autonomy capable of satisfying people’s daily needs, or I am also thinking of Smart’s choice of completely switching to electric models from 2019. New generations of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) and Extended-Range Electric Vehicles (EREV) are ready to make the difference.
The development of the electric mobility not only depends on the adoption of specific technologies, it also depends on the ability to organize and manage the activities of the suppliers of mobility services, suppliers and distributors of energy and the Institutions. There is a study by Kerrigan Advisors, which it may have found the best solution to switch from combustion cars towards vehicles with the least environmental impact. This would mean a new concept, which shifts from paying for owning a car to pay for the transport as a service – may this service be using, renting or leasing a car. The electric cars offer more convenient prices for renting compared to their traditional “sisters” – which also have the problem of a more expensive maintenance.
I think that the turning point to switch to a real e-mobility lies in the concept of renting rather than owning a car. We are witness of a change in the concept of using a car, too. More and more people understand that it may be worthwhile to rent a car instead of owning it.
— Currently, do the city districts have some Actions Plans for electric mobility which allow to best develop this potential?
When we find ourselves facing the local administration, we have to deal with communal guidelines and rules which facilitate the consumer to recharge the vehicles during their stall, rather than helping the citizens having access to the mobility as a service. Basically, there is the need for having public policies which support the e-mobility, both from demand and from supply side.
On a local basis, we are starting witnessing Action Plans to integrate electric vehicles in the transport system or to replace the old vehicles of the administration. In Italy, there are some areas which are more developed than others. However, it is still something happening here and there. In the Unitary Workplace Union Structures (RSU) there are the first Electric Powertrain Vehicles, but it is still a long way to reach a real local, e-mobility plan.
It is just starting from real, concrete, territorial Action Plans that all of us will embrace a real e-mobility. I think that the first, real e-mobility experience will come with the “green procurement” in the public administration – that is to say, concerning public transport or vehicles for private companies. What I expect is that, as for the local administrations, it will be these companies to choose smart means of transport – maybe choosing a common project.
On the one hand, big cities have their car sharing supported by huge actors with huge economic interest; on the other hand, local administrations – maybe supported by some energy carrier – will be in charge to show all the practical and environmental advantages of the electric vehicles. This would be the starting point to create a new demand for these vehicles, especially the smallest ones, within the cities. Sharing or renting electrical vehicles may represent an important cultural turning point: the users may have access to a multi-modal mobility, going beyond the concept of owning a car.
— What are the major advantages related to electric mobility?
Generally, the major advantages come from the government which disencumbers the purchase of the vehicle, and exempts from the vehicle tax. More advantages are the operating cost together with the low cost for recharging the vehicles and the fact of being emission free.
In many cities, the electric vehicles are also authorized to circulate in the emission free areas, to enter the restricted traffic zones, to park for free in the central areas, to use the fast tracks, and to be exempted from paying the “road pricing” or the “congestion charge” – just think of cities like London or Paris. Probably, it is possible to have such advantages given the limited number of electric vehicles. However, if they increased the local authorities should re-examine the applicability of these policies. In any case, they are real advantages which should vehicle a cultural turning point.
Moreover, there are even more advantages for those who should buy an electrical vehicle. Today, buying an electric vehicle is still expensive and this is an obstacle. But the consumers should not forget about the long-term economic advantages in terms of maintaining the electric vehicles. A classic 20 kwh battery, which now costs about 1.000 € per kwh, represents the highest initial cost of the vehicle… but the long-life of the battery (especially for the new generations of vehicles) should allow a concrete amortization.
— Does the rise of the offer mean a more flexible leasing opportunities?
Of course it does. The leasing or renting opportunities are the reason why the demand for these kind of products is rising. The 30% of the private vehicles in North America are in leasing.
It is a matter of using the vehicle, not owning it. The number of people who choose to rent a plug-in vehicle is about 55% and reaches the 80% when talking about electric vehicles. This is probably due to their batteries, which also represent a spur for more flexible offers when speaking of sustainable mobility.
— At the end of last year, new European homologation tests were introduced – I am referring to the WLTP the Worldwide Harmonized Light-Duty Vehicle Test Procedure (a global harmonized standard), which has replaced the old NEDC (New European Driving Cycle); I am also talking about new test RDE modalities (Real Drive Emission test, a system to measure the pollutants) according to which the car manufacturers have to perform new, more specific measurements. How things are changed? Are these new standards going to have a clearer background of how cars really consume?
The new WLTP homologation typology definitely allows the consumer to have a better background of how their cars consume. As an insider of this field, I can see the manufacturers’ need for BIG DATA, in order to better understand what the consumers really need. I’m going to explain myself clearer.
The WLTP and the RDE have been introduced to try and simulate a “trial” which may be the most similar to a real driving situation on the road. It’s evident that the CO2 values, which will be measured through the new WLTP will be higher than the old ones. This will require an immediate revision of the taxation levels imposed by all the Union’s countries. This may cause an increase of the costs for the users due to the new measurement systems, which is a sensitive topic to be discussed in the nearest future.
Up to now, those tests have been performed on vehicles whose features facilitates the homologation of the single model. This is the reason why the car manufacturers tested these vehicles on particular circuits. Some cars often have mapping curves which shows some suspected “gaps” near the edge of the homologation analysis. Some others have small, tight tires when tested for homologation while the clients find completely different cars on the market. In the future, every single add-on will require a new WLTP homologation cycle. This also means that the manufacturers will also have to revise their offers – this way they will know what the consumers ask for and what they don’t. what’s sure is that we will be more aware of the impact that our vehicles make on the environment. The hope is that this will help reduce the real quantity of NOx emissions and particulate matter, some of the principal causes of air pollution and of more than 40 thousand early deaths in the EU. Thanks to the WLTP and the RDE, we will have a clearer pollution situation. Knowing this, it will be possible to know where to intervene in order to make the hybrid vehicles spread or to penalize the most dangerous models.
— The CO2 values measured through the new WLTP cycle are higher and require a change in the taxation system. Will the consumers have to meet more expensive costs?
This is a highly-debated topic – who has to pay more, the consumers or the manufacturers (which would probably get the consumers pay more anyway)? It looks like the national governments will regulate the tax and fiscal incentive according to the WLTP values. Let’s wait and see. The most important thing is realizing that mobility is changing faster and faster, and we are not only witnesses but also actors of this change. We’re actors when deciding what vehicle to use, and we are also actors when we involve ourselves in mobility-oriented projects.
Thomas Grones is CEO and CoFounder of BtheONE Automotive-digital partner for Italian car dealers & part of the Interlogica Group