Mobility is the lifeline of any economic activity. The last year, of course, was an outlier when the economies the world over felt the heat like never before. Even as we hope to leave the surreal world of 2020 behind to the dawn of a ‘New Normal’, the overall paradigm of life has been irreversibly impacted.
Challenges of protecting the environment have always been part of the discourse. Nonetheless, the pandemic has focused attention on prioritizing solutions to this issue.
During the lockdown, we all saw shared messages on social media, talking of the dramatic improvement in air quality. In fact, the social media went viral with images of pristine Himalayan snow-laden peaks as sighted from towns like Chandigarh and Jullundur. People recalled with wonder that the snowy mountains had not been seen from so far away for the past many decades.
The pandemic has prompted more people to opt for solitary modes of travel, such as cars and bicycles. This indicates that till a major part of the population is vaccinated or better treatments are found, this contagion will shape structure of travel. Various studies suggest that in 2021, while the epidemic still remains a threat, people would continue to prefer independent modes of conveyance, despite efforts to make public transport safer.
Thus, as the situation normalizes, with more cars & commercial vehicle on the roads, challenge to Air Quality Index (AQI) shall remain. It is also quite evident that to address the issue of environment, one cannot put a halt to all economic activity, because such a solution too, is unsustainable.
So as the economic activities revive, ‘The New Normal’ would have to pay equal, attention & importance to environmental issues.
Assuming, Indian economy recovers rapidly & renews it’s pre-Covid ambitious goal to be a $ 5.0 trillion economy in the next five to seven years, it would be instructive to examine what the implications and consequences would be for the automobile sector.
Clearly, if we were to follow the trajectory of the past decade, transportation activity with ever-increasing demand to move people, goods; farther and faster, to boost the living-standard, shall cause a major stress on the environment.
The transport sector cannot go on using fossil fuels, generating massive greenhouse gasses and creating air and noise pollution. On can underscore the fact that the auto sector must provide enhanced economic opportunities for all sections of society, however, without the harmful impact.
In recent decades, the industry has evolved dramatically and is continually adapting to newer technologies, business practices, opportunities and realities – from mass production, to new safety measures, to electrification and digitization.
According to a Global Analysis by Capgemini, 62% of automotive organizations across the globe claim to have a comprehensive sustainability strategy with well-defined goals and targets. But implementation seems to be fragmented and an additional $50 billion investment is needed to meet sustainability commitments.
The goal embodied in the Paris Agreement’s net-zero target is to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050. It is also essential to mitigate catastrophic climate risk.
The automotive industry, which currently contributes little over 10% of industrial emissions, must look beyond the conventional and innovate to consider the issue through the total product life-cycle.
To date, decarbonisation has only focused on electrification of the powertrains. Typically, exhaust emissions make up as much as 80% of lifecycle emissions in internal combustion engines. Major strides have been made to enhance fuel efficiency and reduce emissions by application of using microprocessors and sensors and application of artificial intelligence. Notwithstanding the impressive progress, there is much scope for improvement.
Electrification using renewable sources is but just one answer to the decarbonisation challenge. The automotive industry must beyond the exhaust emissions and also consider emissions embedded in vehicle materials – which will grow in importance in tandem with powertrain electrification. As per McKinsey report, materials used in vehicles account for as much as18–22% of internal combustion engine vehicles’ (ICEVs) life-cycle emissions.
The growing market share of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) – and the greener energy mix required to power them – will increase the share of materials in the automotive life-cycle emissions in both relative and absolute terms.
The path to electrifying powertrains is complex. Eliminating carbon emissions from automotive materials is even more complex.
It is projected that material emissions will surpass 60% of life-cycle emissions by 2040, assuming that there is no reduction of emissions in the production of automotive materials.
The recent report by McKinsey projects that by 2030 about 66% of material emissions of a representative ICEV could be reduced at no net material cost increase. An even larger share of material emissions from BEVs could be decarbonised at no net cost increase.
Fast-acting GVCs and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can realize this decarbonisation potential with a symbiotic and collaborative approach. There is definitely a path to net zero and a brighter future for companies that embrace this challenge.
Today many key technologies and sustainability solutions are not only available but are also implementable. Success will, however, depend on innovative collaboration models which involves all the stake holders, including those beyond the automotive ecosystem.
This means there is a need for an overarching ecosystem of collaborative R&D and positive policy framework. The policy framework, which must also fundamentally rethink incentives distributed along the total value chain.
Thus the Policy makers, Regulators, Standard Bodies, Assessors, along with the NGOs and other institutions need to come together, with a will to resolve this mega challenge. As for the auto industry; it has already shown its willingness to adopt the ‘Circular Cars Initiative’ – the partnership between all stakeholders in the auto ecosystem to minimize total lifecycle emissions, especially manufacturing emissions. Many of the industry participants are ready to embrace this future – and join forces to pave a new road ahead for the “Zero-Carbon Car”.
Automotive organizations have made sustainability a strategic priority even as the challenge to pursue it is greater and more pressing than ever. While this is a good start, ground-level action is needed across the automotive value chain. Governance, measurement and monitoring need to be strengthened, and sustainability investments need to be significantly ramped up beyond large scale advances in R&D and manufacturing of EVs, shared mobility models and Intelligent Transportation Systems.