At the recently concluded ExpoMove 2021 international conference held on October 13-14, 2021, in Florence, stakeholders from across the mobility industry came together to discuss themes centered on electric and sustainable mobility in Europe.
Representatives from leading OEMs, tier 1 and 2 e-mobility companies, public transport authorities, and automotive associations provided insights on the key challenges, opportunities, scenarios, strategies, and solutions shaping the move towards clean, electrified mobility.
Setting the framework for deliberations, panelists identified a quintet of trends that were impacting electrification agendas in Europe: semiconductor shortages, rising raw material costs, increasingly stringent carbon emission regulations in the EU, the push by public authorities to reduce private vehicle use, and the boom in micro-mobility use, particularly in urban settings.
The Italian Experience
Today, Italy is the only major market in Europe still incentivizing petrol and diesel cars (Euro 6). Ironically, while Italy also offers strong incentives for EV purchase, their impact on EV sales has been tepid compared to that in countries like Germany. Experts at the conference stressed the need for existing incentive schemes to be restructured in order to yield maximum benefit.
At more than 600 vehicles per 1000 inhabitants, Italy’s per person car density is the highest in Europe. It was, therefore, an eye-opener to hear experts predict that the cumulative sale of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and fuel cell cars (FCEVs) would roughly be on par with diesel vehicle sales in the country by the end of 2021.
Further underlining Italy’s commitment to sustainable mobility was its push to have half its bus fleet electrified by 2025. Panelists representing Italy’s local public transport authorities emphasized that all stakeholders were dedicated to speeding up bus fleet renewal programs with investments driven by the European Commission’s PNRR Plan.
The common goals espoused by municipalities as part of their roadmap for electrified and sustainable mobility included:
- Improving both public and private transport and charging infrastructure
- Reducing the number of cars in urban city centers while investing in micro-mobility and shared mobility modes
- Strengthening regulations related to e-micro-mobility, and
- Implementing smart route planning systems in larger municipalities to alleviate congestion and therefore, address the air quality issues and enhance local public transport services.
End-of-Life Battery Management: A Complex, Many Layered Space
With battery technologies playing a critical role in the development of the EV industry in Europe, one of the major themes at the conference centered on the projected value of the European battery market. Experts pegged the market to be worth €250 billion by 2030.
The number of alliances in battery production and recycling — Mercedes-ACC and ItalVolt-ABB among them — signals the intent of OEMs to fast-track their EV initiatives. Hit by the semiconductor shortage, many participants also highlighted the need to ensure an uninterrupted supply of raw materials needed for battery production.
Not surprisingly, a focal point of the sessions was overcoming the challenges related to end-of-life battery management, with Cobat, a leader in the European battery recycling industry, leading the discussion on key trends in this space.
The need to find reuse, recycle and remanufacturing solutions gain urgency when one realizes that over 1 TWh of installed batteries will need to be recycled by 2030. Panelists touched on the need to move towards circular production processes and design batteries and components that could be easily removed and recycled for second-life applications. Product remanufacturing, design and inspection were identified as crucial to the development of the ecosystem. Efforts to maximize material recovery for recycling were also highlighted.
Regulatory clarity related to second-life applications was also identified as being crucial to reducing the current export dependency on China and other countries for battery raw materials.
Perspectives of e-Mobility Stakeholders
I was keen to hear about what stakeholders envisioned as being future e-mobility scenarios and the growth opportunities therein.
From a Tier 1 perspective, Bosch spoke of digitalization as being a central catalyst — whether in terms of remote EV driver management, data in the cloud, or route planning — in accelerating the sustainability agenda. On the other hand, they identified inadequate charging infrastructure as being a restraint to e-mobility development.
Siemens shed light on the need for EV charging infrastructure to be intermodal and reversible. They also recognized charging and storage as being key success factors for energy management not just within the larger urban ecosystem but at the residential level as well.
Tier 1 chemical companies saw a role for themselves in developing new polymers with light-weighting capabilities that would reduce EV weight and create new generation additives that would protect powertrain components in EVs from degradation and oxidation.
The automotive industry’s shift from ICE to electric powertrains will have implications on economies and employment levels. For instance, Germany’s automotive industry accounts for 10% of the country’s GDP, while in Italy it accounts for 6%. As representatives from Italian and German automotive associations stressed, the churn that will result from this transformation underlines the need for greater social and corporate responsibility and redesigned business models. They pointed out that the electrification process will imply factory conversions, organizational transformation, and reskilling imperatives. These, together with the threat of reduced job opportunities linked to lower sales and servicing requirements for ICEs, will require a cogent and cohesive strategy aimed at easing the transition.
In line with Frost & Sullivan’s research, leading OEMs like Volkswagen underscored how their value chains were transforming from being linear to circular. They reiterated that OEMs would be in the vanguard of collaborative EV battery recycling initiatives. Optimizing recycling processes was seen as a way to avoid the risk of chip shortages that the automotive industry has struggled with in recent times. And, finally, they emphasized that for e-mobility to take off, the smart cities of the future must ensure interoperability between different charging infrastructures, stations, and vehicles.
On the commercial EV side, representatives from MAN Trucks were upbeat as they discussed how sustainability was not only an issue of emissions; it was about striking a balance between environmental and economic considerations. I concurred with their recommendation of a gradual transition from ICEs to full electric to minimize the impacts ensuing from such a shift. They added that while improving battery technology was alleviating range anxiety, the priority must be to educate customers about the advantages of using e-CVs.
Renault Trucks, which already has an e-CV range ready to market, dwelt on its electrification roadmap. The company is targeting the development of e-CVs with a 30% lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than their diesel counterparts by 2022.
Listening to stakeholder discussions over two days, I am buoyant that the mobility industry is headed purposefully towards its future of clean, green, and efficient mobility.