I recently had the honour to welcome more than 200 guests on behalf of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association at our 25th Anniversary Reception in Brussels. Looking back at what Europe’s auto industry has achieved over these two and a half decades, it becomes clear that car and truck makers have made a significant contribution to improving the mobility of Europeans.
Despite a three-fold increase in traffic over the past decades, EU road transport fatalities have been halved between 2001 and 2013 alone. We’ve also contributed our fair share to reaching climate targets. CO2 emissions of new cars in Europe dropped by more than 34% in less than two decades. And over the last 15 years, NOx limits for diesel cars were reduced by 84% and those for particulates even by 90%. Finally, we shouldn’t forget the contribution of the 184 plants operated by our members across Europe, which have reduced CO2 emissions from production by more than 27% over the past decade.
For the future, I should reiterate that automobile manufacturers are committed to further cutting CO2 and addressing air pollution concerns. For example, by continuing to invest in alternative powertrains and by exploring the potential of ITS technology to further reduce fuel consumption, and with that CO2 emissions. But in years to come, we will still strive to develop ever more fuel-efficient vehicles – as they remain the major lever to decrease emissions in the medium term. As ACEA President Dieter Zetsche summarised the progress we’ve made at our reception: “Road traffic has never been safer and cleaner since cars started to replace horses 130 years ago.”
At the same time, industry leaders agree that the fundamental changes in our industry have only just begun to take shape. What we can expect to see in the next 10 to 20 years is nothing short of revolutionary. ACEA’s members are of course well aware of the challenges we face: transport demand keeps rising while infrastructure is reaching its limits, especially in cities. At the same time our industry will not let up on meeting environmental goals. In this respect, digitalisation and connectivity technology hold great potential. Looking at safety, nine out of ten accidents are currently caused by human error, so just imagine what kind of progress autonomous driving would bring.
Digitalisation will also allow Europe’s car manufacturers to truly understand the needs of their customers. Not only by producing cars that fit their personal wishes, but likewise by developing new mobility concepts, such as the car-sharing schemes that are available in an increasingly number of cities. In order to make mobility cleaner, smarter safer and even more customer-focused, the automobile industry will continue to play its role as a driving force for innovation in Europe in the coming decades. To that end, auto makers and suppliers invest over €41.5 billion each year, making them the EU’s largest investor in R&D.
The power of innovation was also emphasised by Violeta Bulc, the European Commissioner for Transport, at ACEA’s reception. While sharing her views on the future of Europe’s automobile industry, Ms Bulc stressed the role of digitalisation in addressing tomorrow’s mobility challenges. After hearing the speech by the Commissioner and Dr Zetsche’s inspiring words, I think everyone can agree that less mobility is not an option. We simply need better mobility solutions, and I can assure you that Europe’s car makers are well on track in delivering those.
Our industry already is working with technology companies and other players as we embrace connectivity and more advanced concepts of mobility. Besides those who are already part of the automotive value chain, these stakeholders also include non-traditional players such as start-ups, infrastructure providers, established tech companies and telecom providers. Tomorrow’s challenges require new solutions and partnerships with new players, so that together we can innovate our way to the future.
Secretary General of ACEA