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Interview: Hugues Van-Honacker, European Commission

Ruth Dawson discusses freight efficiency with DG Move’s policy officer

What areas are under the remit of the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG Move)?

Hugues Van-Honacker, European Commission
Hugues Van-Honacker

DG Move is trying to address policies across the whole mode of transport, one of which is automotive. We are dealing in policy, so we have two kinds of things in clean transport: one is to make policies – we already have some directives to promote clean vehicle procurement and now we are tackling infrastructure. We also have demonstration projects in clean vehicle technologies such as CNG and LNG, and electromobility.

How is the EU’s clean fuel strategy, launched in early 2013, progressing?

The strategy addresses all modes of transport to try to define how to replace oil in the long term. We came up with three conclusions that we need, basically, a mix of different fuels for different modes of transport because no single solution is available for all modes. We need to continue technology development to improve energy efficiency, and also find a cheaper alternative fuel, and improve batteries and range.

We also need an alternative fuel infrastructure with common standards in Europe so we came up with the proposal directive to mandate member states to deploy a minimum number of infrastructures in CNG, hydrogen, LNG and electric, to allow EU mobility and to avoid fragmentation of investment in the industry.

How do OEM plans, such as Tesla’s supercharger network, fit into the deployment of infrastructure?

Infrastructure is one part of the chicken and egg problem; we cannot have a market of alternative fuel if you have no infrastructure, and infrastructure deployment is not done because there are not enough alternative fuel vehicles. Infrastructure is necessary but the automotive industry should make an effort to sell and develop alternative fuel vehicles at an affordable price and with high performance.

Tesla is a good concept but it’s expensive. People want to develop their own infrastructure and this should be addressed. We still don’t know how, but I personally believe that they should have the same standards at all OEMs. If you say this is a niche market – because it is a niche market, it’s about 80,000 to 100,000 cars – and they invest in their own private infrastructure, this is something that we should address in the future. We don’t close the door but if the market for Tesla is getting high volume, we should try to have a common standard for every approach in Europe.

Tesla supercharger network
Tesla supercharger network in Europe today (left) and planned locations by winter 2014 (right)

Last year, Wolfgang Bernhard voiced the opinion that emissions standards should be more open to cover potential savings across the whole vehicle, not just the engine. Do you think legislators should consider implementing this idea in future policies?

We should decouple activities on the automotive industry – regulation and the energy part. The Commission is involved through the JRC [Joint Research Centre] with CONCAWE [Conservation of Clean Air and Water in Europe] and EUCAR [European Council for Automotive R&D], to come up with a referenced study in Europe on Well-to-Wheel, addressing different alternative fuels. This is something that is needed for policymakers to understand all cycles of life of the alternative fuel, from production to use in the car.

But I think we should decouple because we have an energy policy and a climate policy to make more renewable deployment in member states and the EU asked them to have targets. For example, Belgium is 13% renewable electricity, so what we try to tackle now is really that the vehicles themselves are clean in terms of pollution, in terms of CO2. Even a CNG car will reduce the CO2 level by 30%; the idea is that at the end we can replace CNG with renewable CNG, because somehow the molecule is the same.

We also know that an electric vehicle is clean, it will not produce any pollutant, and if you take into account the mix of electricity production in Europe, we have a 30% reduction of CO2. Sure, in some countries we have a mass usage of coal, for example, for electricity, so the local perception of EVs may be negative. But there are other policies saying that this country which uses mainly coal should make more renewable electricity. I think if we address this topic too early, saying that there is no need to have electric vehicles in countries where electricity is produced with coal, they will not try to promote electric vehicles and then the market will be reduced; the cost of the vehicle will be high. And when this country has more clean energy, the transport will not follow.

ACEA’s former Secretary General Ivan Hodac questioned in November why Europe has the toughest CO2 requirements. He stated that the European rules are “not comparable to anywhere else in the world”, that “the Americas, the Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese have a requirement in the industry in their countries but not when they export to Europe”. Do you think this is a fair comment?

My personal opinion is that, first, CO2 regulation may help industry, may force industry to invest in research to have cleaner technology and to have alternative fuel vehicles, and then they will be competitive all over the world. CO2 regulation will trigger technology development and new technology will be needed to maintain competitiveness.

CO2 regulations also address multiplication factors to promote new technology, so in my opinion, dealing with electro mobility in DG Transport, I see a good opportunity to sell more electric vehicles if you have these multiplication factors in Europe. This is useful to trigger the market. We shouldn’t influence the market too much, but trigger the market when we have barriers like costs because oil will be predominant in the future. Oil is a perfect fuel in terms of performance and in terms of costs, but it affects the environment and, unfortunately, we are not producing much oil in Europe so we are really dependent on other regions.

How can the industry inform customers of the advantages of alternative powertrain technology? Is it up to the manufacturers to push dealers to educate at the point of sale, or should policymakers be responsible?

I think there are two sides to it. As policymakers, having addressed customer information in the direct proposal, we’ve found that customers are not familiar with alternative fuels. They are familiar with normal gasoline and diesel, so when they go to the pump they understand what kind of fuel they need. But as we extend to more biofuel blends or CNG or hydrogen in the future, we need to make sure that customers are confident buying these technologies.

The other side is the dealership. Clearly, the customer is not used to buying an alternative fuel vehicle so when he wants to buy a vehicle he goes to the dealership. If no one explains the advantage, in terms of cost and in terms of environment or even performance, the customer loses out. It’s the role of the car manufacturer – well, it depends if it is an independent dealership or not – to also educate the seller, they are the contact people who can explain, answer questions and spend time on this.

This article was first published in the Q1 2014 issue of Automotive World Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue

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