ACEA's consistency problem

PSA, FCA... ACEA (photo : groupe PSA)

Mike Manley, head of FCA, spoke to the press on Wednesday to promote a document published by ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers' Association), which he has chaired since December.
Entitled "A ten-point plan to help implement the European Green Deal", the document aims to provide the Commission with an indication of what the policies should be for the 16 manufacturers operating in Europe.
Extending and emphasising the tone of the eight pages that ACEA's services hastened to write in response to Ursula von der Leyen, Mike Manley began by endorsing ACEA's objective of climate neutrality and even stated that ACEA "strongly believes that carbon neutral road transport is possible by 2050".
He hastened to add, however, that this is far from being the sole responsibility of the manufacturers, and expecting too much from them without giving anything in return could have dramatic consequences.  
The first of these consequences will be, according to Mr. Manley, registrations which, for the first time since 2014, are not expected to increase but to decrease: they have still grown by 1.2% to more than 15.3 million cars sold in 2019, but ACEA forecasts a decrease of 2% for 2020.
Without explicitly claiming that this is a consequence of the requirements to reduce CO2 emissions, FCA's boss points out that manufacturers will have to face heavy costs and try to sell electric or electrified vehicles in an unpromising context. As these technologies are expensive and provide services that are not - apart from emissions - better but less good, it is urgent to help manufacturers.
"At a time when our industry is massively increasing its investment in zero emission vehicles, the market is expected to contract - not only in the EU but also globally - so the transition to carbon neutrality needs to be very well managed by public authorities," he said.
According to ACEA this good management of the transition by public authorities refers first of all, not surprisingly, to the fact that prices of electrified vehicles remain high and that "incentive policies" for private vehicule owners must therefore be put in place throughout Europe "to ensure that higher prices do not hamper the renewal of the car fleet".
The document also places heavy emphasis on the ageing of Europe's stock of legacy cars: between 2000 and 2017, the average age of the car stock has risen from 7.5 to 12 years and that of lorries from 6.9 to 11.1 years. There is therefore an urgent need to make vehicles more affordable in order to enable them to be renewed more quickly. This is the seventh of the ten measures advocated by ACEA. It is understandable when it is justified by the "viability of the business".
The "affordability" argument is just as well-founded, but it is somewhat surprising to see it being developed by manufacturers who - with the complicity of equipment manufacturers and the European authorities, it is true - have constantly been moving up the product range and offering customers vehicles that are ever heavier, taller, longer, wider, more powerful and more expensive. It is a little as if this increase in price, which is justified by passive safety and, possibly, depolluting gasoline and - above all - diesel ICEs, were to become unbearable when combined with electrification.
Apart from the now classic plea for charging points (measure 4) or that for 'technological neutrality' (measure 1) in defence of diesel, the other measures are in line with the perspective introduced by measure 2, which refers to the need for the Commission to take a more 'holistic' approach to decarbonising transport.
More specifically, ACEA criticises the EU for imposing on manufacturers and the vehicles they produce obligations that cannot be theirs. ACEA therefore proposes to think in terms of a "well to wheel" analysis, i.e. from primary energy to the wheel, by subdividing this chain into two sequences: the first goes from primary energy to the tank ("well to tank") and the second from the tank to the wheel ("tank to wheel"). In this way, the responsibilities could be split and, if manufacturers say they accept their own responsibilities in the second sequence, they demand that the managers of the first sequence and the policies that are carried out in relation to it also be held accountable.
In line with the requirement for "technological neutrality", alternative fuels and liquid renewable fuels are therefore mentioned. Similarly, outside the responsibilities of manufacturers, the question of transport systems and the rationalisation of vehicle use should, in this holistic approach, be examined.
It is obviously a question of relieving the pressure on manufacturers and possibly defend solutions that are less problematic to develop industrially and commercially than EVs, which for the time being emerge as the only preferred option. The fact remains that this is intellectually rather defensible and that, just as schools are often asked to repair all the ills of society, there is a tendency, since the Volkswagen affair at least, to confuse clean new vehicles with clean or carbon-neutral transport. The problem is that once these intelligent principles are affirmed, ACEA adds two more problematic pleas.
The first concerns the consideration of the whole life cycle which, according to ACEA, cannot and should not be the basis for the reasoning of measures applicable to the automotive sector:
"Given the lack of a common overall methodology in the EU and the fact that these life cycles involve a large number of sectors for which the automotive industry has no direct responsibility and which are not necessarily within the EU, life cycle assessment cannot be used to set any kind of target for vehicle manufacturers. This would lead to an untenable situation where the car industry would be held responsible for every link in a value chain, including those not under its control".
After advocating a holistic approach and pretending to take full responsibility, this refusal weakens the defended approach.
It indicates that the industry intends to minimize its own through this holistic approach rather than accept them.
Similarly, after having said that the rationalisation of transport systems was a practicable way to decarbonise them, ACEA advocates, in conclusion, taking into account the "economic and social dimensions" and is therefore a defender of employment.
The text then states that "mobility must remain accessible to all European citizens wherever they live and whatever their financial means", and adds that "road freight transport must continue to contribute to the proper functioning of European economies".
These are two incursions by manufacturers outside their field of competence which, once again, seem to indicate that the holistic approach is, for ACEA, much more a new way of lobbying than a sign of a willingness to make the decarbonisation process a better shared and better defined responsibility.
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Translated with, corrections by Géry Deffontaines

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