Bill van Amburg, Executive Vice President of the US-based non-profit Calstart, and Mats Harborn, Chair of the European Trade Commission in China and Executive Director of Scania in Beijing, were invited to discuss automotive trends and developments in their countries and to offer their viewpoints. Calstart is the world’s largest organisation geared towards consolidating issues regarding cleaner transport technologies and environmental policies. Bill van Amburg opened the discussion by affirming that electrification is gaining considerable ground in the US, with lighter vehicles and longer ranges being two dominating trends. Electric-powered school buses and city delivery vehicles are becoming increasingly commonplace, and sights are set on electrifying heavier transport vehicles at a critical time as zero emissions will soon be a necessity. Autonomous vehicles are also becoming more ubiquitous, particularity off-road and in enclosed areas.
“But there is a concern that innovations in these areas currently imply that we will be driving more in the future. Calstart believes that we should generally aspire towards fewer autonomous vehicles that we share”, summed up van Amburg.
Mats Harborn, Chair of the European Trade Commission in China and Executive Director of Scania in Beijing, has spent many years in China. During the panel discussion he put paid to rumours that Chinese consumers have strong loyalty to national brands.
“Sixty percent of customers purchase a car based on how quickly they are able to pair their smartphone with it”, explained Harborn. He also reported that attitudes are changing: many young Chinese people are more interested in sharing than owning, which is something he thinks will affect car sales and mobile phone services going forward.
China wants to be the best in the world at electrification
The first panel discussion addressed the rapid development of the Chinese automotive industry and its impact on both the US and EU. The goal established by the government in the nation’s strategy plan, ‘Made in China 2025’ stipulates that China will be the world-leader in electromobility. Mats Harborn stated that Chinese development of future vehicles is primarily spurred by three parameters: the will to be the best in the world, overcoming the country’s excessive emissions, and reducing noise levels.
“There are, of course, other driving factors, such as increased safety. Autonomous and connected vehicles would create better flows in infrastructure with more predictable behaviours, thereby reducing accidents”, Harborn said.
It is common knowledge that Chinese vehicle manufacturers are investing heavily in foreign makes, which is currently more about innovating and integrating components and technology, rather than copying them, particularly with regard to electric vehicles.
“Today, China is top of the class, or has bought into those who are top of the class. But the production of electric vehicles is a subsidised industry, something that European manufacturers can benefit from later on and when subsidies are discontinued”, said van Amburg.
But he also noted that Chinese dominance stems from economies of scale that no other manufacturers can match, including those involved with battery manufacture.
“I think, however, that European and American companies are benefited by their expertise and development as relates to both business and environmental sustainability”, Harborn said.
“China, which only a few short decades ago could be considered a bicycle society, is today totally dominated by vehicles, with an estimated ratio of heavy vehicles to light vehicles at 50/50, which equates to an immense number of climate-impacting haulage miles on a nascent road network. At the same time, there are a large number of major cities with populations in excess of one million inhabitants where inner-city transport – such as distribution and waste disposal – is achieved by smaller fuel-driven vehicles that must and should be replaced”, said Harborn.