ACEA changes feet and heads to push electrification

"Angels and Demons" party in Brussels
On September 4, ACEA organized a conference entitled "Leading the mobility transformation".
It is in this context that it was announced that the Manufacturers' Association had co-signed a joint letter with Transport and Environment and Eurelectric (association of electrical industries) calling on the European and national authorities to accelerate the implementation of all the measures that will enable the massive electrification desired by the politicians to become effective.
At stake of course, are the continuation of the various forms of aid for the purchase of electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids and the increase in the use of charging infrastructures.
Taking up the famous theme of the "right to plug", T&E states on this subject:
"Whether it is urban or motorway public pricing, all obstacles to infrastructure deployment and the growth of electric mobility must be removed. In order to make reloading at home, at work and on motorways easy and accessible for all drivers, decision-makers should reform and strengthen their key legislation, such as the European Union's law on alternative fuels, which will soon be revised, and the European Building Directive (EPBD). Existing EU funding instruments must also be better exploited to accelerate infrastructure deployment, and other financial instruments must be targeted to find new solutions to improve coverage in all Member States."
As for Erik Jonnaert, ACEA's Secretary General, he asserted: "The European Union's automotive industry wants to work with all stakeholders to make zero emission mobility a reality".
He added: "This will require a massive deployment of strategically located infrastructures with "smart billing" across the European Union. An intelligent infrastructure will allow drivers to recharge their batteries without seriou’sly damaging or overcharging European electricity grids. The associations believe that this brings clear benefits to customers, the electrical system, the automotive industry and society at large."
As the ACEA and T&E representatives themselves said, this alliance between them was not self-evident since, on this issue as on many others, the two associations were not always in phase and Julia Poliscanova, in charge of the topic at T&E, states: "We will not always agree in the future but it is important to have something today that we can work on". She adds: "It is important that we help you sell cars."
On the part of an ecologist who we would gladly think considers that the best car is the one that does not exist, the expression can surprise and will undoubtedly be reproached by more radical people than her. However, it corresponds to a consistent attitude on the part of an association that has constantly opposed the manufacturers who claimed that customers did not want electric vehicles on the grounds that they had never really tried to sell them any.        
Euractiv reports that, at the summit, the debate again focused on this issue.
Max Warburton, an automotive specialist at Sanford C Bernstein consultants, pointed out, in these terms, that the profession remains extremely sceptical : "When I talk to the industry, I hear that there are no marketing studies today that would suggest that we will be able to sell these electric vehicles. The only company that is enthusiastic about this is Volkswagen, which is developing a Steve Jobs approach that considers marketing research to be pointless when customers don't know what they want until they are told."
This is exactly what the T&E experts also think, convinced that even when they put a few electric vehicles in their catalogues, manufacturers did not make a real effort to sell them, too happy that they were to be able to come and review the policies that had encouraged them to do so and comment on their failure in the same way: "I told you so".
On the contrary, for Julia Poliscanova, "the automotive industry has an incredible ability to make people buy what they want to sell them" and says on this subject "I don't think everyone was born wanting an SUV and look at how much it sells".
In 2019, T&E won and the victories the environmental side has achieved since the Volkswagen scandal have put the industry in such a position that it no longer has a choice and will have to do for the electric vehicle what it did for the SUV: make them desirable and adorn them with all the virtues.
On this path, range anxiety is undeniably a pitfall, just as the quality of power generation and distribution can be a pitfall for the ecological balance of electrification. T&E's political strategy was -implicitly at least- to consider that the resolution of these two very sensitive issues should not be a prerequisite for the electrification injunction.
What has happened since the European directive of 2013, which required that charging infrastructures be set up, proves them right: the scarcity of vehicles has justified immobility and we have remained locked in the debate about the chicken and the egg. Today, if refills are requested by car designers, manufacturers and sellers and, increasingly, by consumers, then it will become electorally important in communities to hasten the pace and the economic models and balances that no one has yet found will finally emerge.
Even ACEA has no choice but to believe in it and do everything possible for its members to ensure that eggs multiply at the same rate as chickens.
More generally, with this change in discourse and attitude, ACEA is breaking away from months or even years of resistance and opting for a much more proactive attitude: even Carlos Tavares now has a range of electric vehicles for sale and, even if he will try not to succeed too well in this exercise in order not to burden his margins, he is asking for charging infrastructure to obtain them, not because he knows that he will not get them and will be able to show how absurd the course taken was.
It is certainly not insignificant that, in this context, ACEA is changing its Secretary General and is doing without the services of Erik Jonnaert, who embodied the resistance of the environmental lobby to entrust his position to Eric-Mark Huitema, who was previously at IBM "Global Smarter Transportation Leader", i. e. at the head of the teams responsible for helping both public authorities and companies to make progress in new mobility: the change of foot required a change of mind.
*          *          *, corrections by Géry Deffontaines


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