Welcoming new MEPs and Commissioners, while saying goodbye to you

Slowly but surely, Brussels is gearing up for a new political term. Those who have been recently elected to the European Parliament already had their first plenary session in Strasbourg earlier this month. Meanwhile the candidate Commissioners nominated by the member states are preparing for their hearings in Parliament between 30 September and 8 October.

Message from ACEA's Secretary General – September 2019

As the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) we are looking forward to engaging in dialogue with these Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the new European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen – as well as the member states, of course – to help define the right political framework for the EU automobile industry to make major transformations in the years ahead.

Indeed, as we embark on this new political term, it is more important than ever that our industry, policy makers and the many other stakeholders out there, all work closely together. After all, we share the common goal – and joint responsibility – of transforming mobility for the benefit of all 500 million people throughout the European Union.

But first, I would like to start by reminding you of the strategic importance of the auto industry to the EU. Our industry acts as an engine of employment, innovation and growth, while also keeping Europe and its citizens on the move. Automotive is a major employer, for example, with 13.8 million people working directly and indirectly in the sector. At the same time, we also represent Europe's largest private contribution to R&D, investing €57.4 billion annually.

Likewise, automobile production also acts as an engine for trade, generating a trade surplus of €84.4 billion for the European Union per year. And last, but certainly not least, our members are providers of diverse mobility solutions for all Europeans, which form a vital part of an increasingly complex network of multimodal transport.

However, as an industry we are at a critical juncture today. Right now, a multitude of new technologies, trends, players – and increasingly demanding legal requirements – is transforming the transport and mobility landscape in Europe. Our industry is no stranger to change, and that is what we are getting ready to do on a massive scale now. Indeed, ACEA’s member companies are already adapting – by stepping up investments in new technologies and re-inventing themselves.

Thousands of engineers in the auto sector are working hard to finetune the best technologies for the future. We hope that policy makers recognise the potential of this engineering brainpower in directing us towards the best technological solutions for tomorrow. All of this change is coming to a head at the very time when we are confronted with a slowdown in the global auto industry, with car sales falling in the US and China, and stagnating in Europe.

To add to this, we are facing an extremely challenging geo-political environment – including the threat of tariffs on imports of vehicles and parts to the United States, not to mention the escalating rhetoric about a no-deal Brexit. Policy makers in Europe should take into account the global context in which EU automobile manufacturers are operating.

One of the biggest drivers of change for our industry is of course the need to address environmental challenges. From the workplan of the current Finnish EU Presidency, to the new Commission President-elect’s proposed ‘Green Deal’, to the Commission’s vision of a ‘clean planet for all’ – not to mention the priorities across the political groups of the European Parliament – climate action has become a clear leitmotif of our times.

And industry is committed to being part of the solution. All European auto makers are investing massively in low- and zero-emission technologies – including full battery electric cars, plug-in hybrids and hybrid electric vehicles, as well as those fuelled by natural gas or hydrogen. Market demand for these vehicles, although growing, is still low, as European customers are still not fully convinced that these vehicles are the best choice for their mobility and transport needs.

But this will have to change rapidly. Not least because it will be essential to meeting the 2025 and 2030 CO2 targets for passenger cars, vans and heavy-duty vehicles that were set recently. Now, how can this happen? Apart being able to afford them, customers must simply no longer have to worry about when and where they can re-charge or re-fuel their alternatively-powered vehicle.

That is why ACEA has been calling on national governments and EU policy makers to make the much-needed investments in infrastructure for cars and trucks, not forgetting buses and vans which also have their own unique requirements. On this topic, I really welcome the fact that ACEA teamed up with Eurelectric as well as with the NGO Transport and Environment earlier this month to push for an accelerated deployment of smart charging infrastructure for electric vehicles right across Europe.

This is a unique and vital cooperation, so we thank them very much for joining forces with us. We just initiated a similar dialogue with Hydrogen Europe, as we should not only focus on making progress on electrically-chargeable vehicles.

With all the hype around electromobility, we cannot forget that it has important implications for the global competitiveness of our industry. It is estimated that batteries will make up 35-50% of the cost of an electric car in the future. However, it remains uncertain as to whether those batteries will be produced in the European Union or imported instead. We have to ask ourselves: Are we ready to let up to 50% of the value of our products leave the European economy?

Europe simply must create the right conditions for a complete battery supply chain, which is able to compete against the big global players. This is why we welcome the European Battery Alliance, initiated by the Juncker Commission, that encourages investment in battery production in Europe. It is essential that policy makers support our sector in this energy transition, by setting up the right framework that allows the EU auto industry to retain its technical leadership on the international stage.

So, in the face of all these massive challenges, we recently launched our Manifesto on the Future of the EU Auto Industry. In a nutshell, this manifesto reconfirms what we as an industry stand for, and what we want to achieve together with policy makers, in the interest of all European citizens. The four main pillars of our Manifesto focus on:

  • Delivering clean and safe mobility;
  • Making road transport smart and convenient;
  • Ensuring affordable mobility and choice for all citizens; and,
  • Safeguarding a thriving and globally competitive industry.

To complement this, we also put forward key policy recommendations to address the specific challenges of commercial vehicles; in other words trucks, buses and vans.

These documents are tools to help us work with all stakeholders in Brussels, and beyond, to shape the mobility transformation – while at the same time ensuring that our sector can maintain its competitive edge in the future. The ACEA team is very much looking forward to discussing their contents, and you will be hearing plenty more about this in the months and years ahead!

Before I wrap up this message on our industry’s commitment to the transformation of mobility and its impact on the wider automotive sector, I would like to inform you that these are not the only areas undergoing change right now. Indeed, ACEA itself is also in a moment of transition, as I will be stepping down as Secretary General at the end of this month. After six years in the driving seat of the association, I will be handing over to my successor Eric-Mark Huitema, who will become Director General of ACEA on the first of October.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for working so constructively together with us at ACEA over the last few years. It was a great pleasure to engage and talk with each and every one of you, and especially to listen to what you had to say – both in the good and the sometimes difficult times that we faced as an industry.

I really hope that you will continue this constructive collaboration with my successor Eric-Mark, as well as the entire team here at ACEA – all of whom are committed to support the transformation of Europe’s auto industry. Best of luck to Eric-Mark in helping steer the industry in these next transformative years, and for driving the vision of our Manifesto forward with all our partners!

Thank you again, and I hope to reconnect with you somewhere soon.

Erik Jonnaert
Secretary General of ACEA

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