Norbert, thank you for taking the time speaking with us today. In your recent article “Business mobility in changing times” on your LinkedIn profile, you were talking about how business mobility has vastly evolved since the 1960s. Can you point out some milestones?
Well, the end of the war itself was a major milestone. European cities were ravaged and had to be rebuilt from scratch. The economy picked up again and the automobile became a key element in society and in business. It let people commute from suburbs, and it also became a crucial tool in business. With time, cars became more comfortable, more efficient, and safer in response to the number of concerns, be that environmental or social. Design changed as well. Today, a new paradigm is taking shape, with renewable fuel options like electric vehicles (EVs), autonomous driving, connectivity, sharing economy and various business mobility solutions.
These days the automobile industry has to face many challenges. Sustainability topics are currently in the headlines. As an expert: Do you see any progress regarding the CO2 emissions in Europe caused by road traffic?
Let me answer with an unequivocal "yes". Indeed, CO2 emissions were high in the past and this definitely brought about a new awareness. We had to address the issue with care. Engines have changed quite dramatically, and cars these days are often made of recyclable materials. National and local governments have been adopting tough emissions standards and limiting on cars in inner cities.
In 2009 the European Union sets its first compulsory emissions standards of 130 g/km for new passenger cars. Two years later standards for light commercial vehicles followed. Since 2011, the regulations for passenger cars have been revised with a new target value of 95 g/km of CO2 for new cars in 2020. These regulations are having a definite impact. What's important, however, is for car manufacturers to get in on the game and make sure they are meeting the standards and being innovative.
What needs to be done to achieve this goal?
First and foremost, government and car manufacturers must work together closely. They must engage in a fruitful dialog to make sure goals are harmonised and our work is in sync. The government must keep the concerns and potential of the car manufacturers in mind, and the car manufacturers must also respect society's wishes. It's the only way to find holistic solutions that will be a win-win for everyone, including the consumer.
Let’s go one step further and talk about the leasing industry. You have already mentioned sharing economy and business mobility solutions. Which effects do you see for the leasing industry?
The fleet industry is actually quite involved in the new paradigm, of course. In fact, we are sort of pioneers in the field. For one, fleets offer many opportunities to try out and adjust new forms of mobility. Carsharing, for example, is an ideal option, which makes efficient use of a vehicle.
There are more advanced concepts, though, such as autonomous cars and connectivity, which will have a major role to play in our industry: The idea is to use the adapted form of mobility for a specific task. You don't need a van if you are going to a business meeting, for example. Given the connectivity we have today, you can find out a lot faster if someone else is going in the same direction. And autonomous driving means not only that the passenger can get work done while on the move, but that the car can be used for another trip rather than, say, wait around in a parking lot.
Many studies show that people are still sceptical when it comes to self-driving cars. Why should fleet companies in particular be excited about self-driving cars in the future?
Self-driving cars indeed represent a paradigm shift, and that might be a little awe-inspiring for many, perhaps even frightening. However, while they do seem to be from the world of science fiction, they will in fact be on our roads and streets before we know it. It's important to keep the advantages in mind, though.
For one, self-driving cars are part and parcel of our focus on sustainability and the environment in general. Utilisation rates of a fleet vehicle is currently at an average of 4%. Self-driving cars are bound to increase that figure while at the same time reducing fleet sizes. They will also mean greater safety for employees using the cars. Finally, engineers and experts expect a drop in maintenance costs as well, since self-driving cars are programmed to drive in the most efficient and logical manner possible.
Speaking about the future: What else can we expect?
Go back a few years and look at the developments. You will see that we are in a very exciting moment. That can only get better as we continue exploring the mobility options described earlier. It's not only the consumer or the employee using fleet vehicles that will feel the changes. The mobility industry itself is evolving, with new players entering the market, new competitors, and new members of the supply chain. Automobile manufacturers are already feeling the impact and will have to take on a new role. We can expect to see new economic relationships and new cooperations arising out of the need to continuously innovate and address the challenges facing everyone.
Norbert, thanks a lot for sharing your expertise with us!