"We have to be world leaders in environmental technology"

"We have to be world leaders in environmental technology"

Sigrid DeVries
Sigrid DeVries

AutoRevista.- The White Book 'Future as We Move' reflects clearly the goals for European automotive supplier industry in long-term, which are the objectives for the short-term? How can you describe the co-operation with EU authorities and OEMs (CLEPA with ACEA)?

Sigrid DeVries.- For industry, most important is a commitment to strengthening the EU as a location for competitive businesses and sustainable manufacturing. This requires a reliable legal and policy framework and, in the case of the automotive sector, a supportive context for transport and mobility in particular: think infrastructure for connectivity and renewable energy.

Technology is the key enabler to achieve the goals set by the European institutions. To boost the long-term objectives, we need a flexible business environment that helps fostering innovation. We need to create a supportive climate that allows advanced solutions to be accepted in the market. Europe should push for ideas that guarantee a safer, smarter and more sustainable mobility for the future. Therefore, as a first step, we need more public resources in research & innovation and funding for new projects to support the efforts of the private sector.

The European automotive suppliers industry calls for the establishment of a Digital Single Market for Mobility, to go hand in hand with a European master plan for the industry. They are both essential to achieve the environmental objectives that the ‘Green Deal’ has set, as well as take advantage of the potential of technology, with the deployment of connected mobility and automated driving. These measures will strengthen European competitiveness, supporting the role of suppliers as an engine of transformation towards sustainable, safe and intelligent mobility.

Europe, we urge, must play on its strengths: the single market, the continent’s advanced technology competence, its high value-add industrial base, and fair and reciprocal market access.

This strategy can only be achieved with co-operation and an intense and constructive dialogue between all stakeholders concerned. When it comes to collaboration with EU authorities, CLEPA is considered a strong partner of decision makers such as the EU institutions and standardisation bodies such as UNECE. CLEPA and its members provide expert input on issues from technology to regulations, trade and research and innovation. CLEPA is also involved in the roll out of EU projects led by the European Commission that focus on mobility technology at the service of society.

AR.- The car is in front of its deepest transformation. Something similar is happening with the Industry 4.0 in OEMs and supplier production plants. How do you think both worlds can connect to improve constantly the car (product) and the processes?

S.D.V.- Along the value chain, European automotive suppliers are increasingly implementing key enablers facilitating safe and efficient interplay in their plants. Ours is indeed, a more varied industry in comparison to manufacturers. Automotive suppliers include all sizes and types of companies: from small ones, to medium-sized firms or multinational corporations. While the big ones have often already implemented the latest trends in artificial intelligence or machine learning systems in their factories, the SMEs are developing advanced digital solutions for their specific production processes.

The automotive industry is in the midst of the transition to climate neutrality and a data-driven economy, and the world is changing fast. Suppliers used to be organisers of a fairly vertical process of materials, parts, components and systems. Today, this traditional ‘chain’ no longer exists. Suppliers operate in an eco-system – a network of interdependent and interlinked actors, OEMs included -- with increasingly diverse and numerous players, and with increasingly direct links to the ‘end-user’ as well, the individual or business using mobility to move from A to B.

Challenges around available and secure infrastructures, protection of critical technologies, access to raw materials and availability of skilled people add to the mix. And so do the global trade tensions and economic slowdown. All actors in the eco-system must work hard to maintain their markets and be competitive.

AR.- 75% is the usual figure to talk about the value of the supplier industry to the car. Do you think this percentage can increase in the next years? Could you explain why or why not?

S.D.V.- Historically, European companies have led the world in the automotive sector, in technology and innovation. European regulations have been instrumental in achieving this in areas such as emissions and safety.

In Europe, we need to continue to develop cutting-edge technologies to remain competitive. Intelligence and innovation are more important than scale, hence we need to continue to improve the quality of our products and services. European automotive manufacturers are among the most demanding customers globally, so European suppliers provide high levels of quality and more technology. Tier 1 suppliers have traditionally been solution providers to automakers; now we are becoming solution providers to the mobility industry and so we are seeing an extension of our customer portfolio and our offer.

AR.- Some months ago I was talking to a Grupo Antolin's innovation responsible who explained me how his company influence in the carsharing trend, because the cockpit must seem new for every new driver. In what other ways do you think automotive supplier industry influence in the final user?

S.D.V.- We all have different mobility needs. That is why we can’t continue thinking of the automotive sector as an industry that offers one single possibility. By now, consumers are used to navigate hundreds of platforms choosing different products, comparing prices and deciding on the characteristics that better suit them. When it comes to mobility options, consumers should be able to choose the services that go with their requests and customize their vehicles with their preferred components.

Technology is an enabler. Innovation will continue and it will accelerate. Automotive suppliers need to use their core technology expertise to develop consumer experiences. We have to get closer to the consumers, so we can solve their problems and anticipate their wishes.

AR.- Even the European supplier industry is a top in innovation comparing to China and other competitors, do you think it will be enough to maintain that position in the future? For example technology batteries is dominated by Asian companies. How must European industry keep on fighting in the next years?

S.D.V.- If we keep on building on Europe’s strength and focus on our advanced technology competence, this is certainly possible. The EU aspired to be the world leader in innovation, digitalisation and decarbonisation, and this is the right approach. Competition is getting tougher; China is no longer a developing country and the US is trying to bring back home some fundamental technologies.

Brussels should play a key role in making sure Europe is a player on the geo-political stage. If we don’t do that, we run the risk of being marginalised when it comes to the big decisions the world is facing. In other words, policy makers need to realise we are in harsh competition with countries and regions such as North America, China, India and Russia.

We have to be world leaders in environmental technology, while at the same time creating the conditions to let companies employ people in Europe. And we need to offer consumers the best range of options to move around.

AR.- What about the question of human resources. Since a European point of view what are strong and weak points for being available young people with the right skills for the European automotive supply industry in the coming years?

S.D.V.- Automotive suppliers account for 5 million direct and indirect jobs in the European Union. Considering that we are moving into an increasingly connected and automated mobility ecosystem, the industry has an incredible employment potential. The sector is in need of critical skill-sets in the fields of automation, robotics, cyber-security, and software and hardware integration.

On the other hand, these skills are not easy to acquire. That is why the industry is working together with policy makers, universities and think tanks to build an agile work force in Europe, that adapts quickly to changing business models and these new trends. An example: CLEPA participates in the DRIVES Project, a solid communication network between industry players and learning providers that assures successful exchanges. Options such as conversational digital platforms or interactive events can help when sharing information and views, identifying the needs from industry partners in terms of training.

AR.- Is the European automotive supplier industry in a good position for the fighting against the climate change?

S.D.V.- Very much so. Suppliers will play a leading role in developing the most efficient powertrains and sustainable mobility innovations. The various levels of electrification enable optimum vehicle specific solutions, from small urban to long range vehicles, helping in the reduction of emissions and environmental impact. This means that we have the solutions, now we just need the right framework conditions to support it. The suppliers’ community advocated for technology-neutral regulation that ensures that the most efficient solutions prevail in the market.

Additionally, suppliers are committed to deliver products that are sustainable from cradle to grave. Currently, more than 85% of the weight of vehicles that reach the end of their lifecycle is reused or recycled.

Europe must, however, re-establish a level-playing field for all technologies, adopting a neutral approach to policy and enabling all technologies to compete. The European Commission aims to turn Europe into the first climate neutral continent. This requires a comprehensive plan to decarbonise all sectors by using both existing and innovative technological solutions. It also requires a strong industrial pillar, as we are the ones developing and providing the solutions.

What we see, notably with the lay-out of the legislation on CO2 for vehicles, is a risk that its industrial value chain will be decoupled from the rest of the globe. It is essential, now that the EU is about to embark on the European Green Deal, that this decoupling is avoided. The objectives of the Green Deal cannot be achieved without our industrial competence to provide solutions.

We all agree: electric mobility is one great solution but not the only one. A wide range of technologies and solutions are necessary to reach climate neutrality. Beyond 2030, the EU must leave the tailpipe-focus in vehicle CO2 legislation behind and move to a life-cycle assessment approach instead. This way, technologies can compete on an equal basis. To reach the goal of a climate-neutral Europe, we also advocate a strong role for hydrogen and derived fuels, gases and feedstock in all sectors including transport.

AR.- What is the CLEPA roadmap to the future? How can every national association improve its support to the European association? How can CLEPA expand its activities in other countries?

S.D.V.- Nobody understands better the national reality of the industry, than the national associations. They are strong bodies constantly interacting with governmental authorities, industry players and media of their own countries. CLEPA relies on them to bring closer to Europe the Member States’ dimension, as well as help disseminate messages to national governments. The exchanges between associations are a great source of best practices, so every example of communication flow and information dissemination is significant. National associations also help CLEPA to better take into consideration the interests of small and medium companies, which represent much of the automotive supply value chain.

European automotive suppliers are technology leaders worldwide and players from other countries are increasing their interest in European practices and trends. Therefore, CLEPA activities are not limited to the European Union. CLEPA maintains close exchanges with JAPIA and MEMA, our homologues in Japan and The United States.

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