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10 Nov 21

Towards a sustainable future for mobility – but how?

On Wednesday, the day COP26 in Glasgow focused on transport, the Fleet Europe Summit in Brussels was all abuzz with sustainability. A pleasing symmetry, but one that contained a burning question: how fast can the corporate fleet and mobility sector help produce the change that is so urgently needed?

The Fleet Europe Conferences, taking place on the far side of a vibrant Fleet Europe Village, focused on a range of topics, with speakers and panelists from OEMs, fleet suppliers, fleet customers and high-ranking government officials. One of the major themes throughout, however, was sustainability. Not surprising. It’s important, urgent and complex.

Two renewal cycles

Let’s start with ‘urgent’. “Companies are realising how important sustainability is, and how little time they have”, said Yves Helven, CEO of Ovidrive, speaking at a panel about post-covid fleet management. Many corporates have set ambitious targets for carbon reduction, typically for 2030. “That’s just two vehicle renewal cycles away.”

Paradoxically, the pandemic has proved a boost for the drive towards electrification (not quite the same as sustainability; but we’ll get to that). Said Jack Knol, Head of Global Car Fleet at Capgemini: “For a certain period last year, we had 95% of our staff working from home.” While those numbers have now gone down, the trend persists, and “it will be an accelerator for our transition to EVs.”

Homeworking hasn’t killed the company car, nor is it likely to on its own: “People are still keen to get a company car as part of their contract, and the fact that they’re working from home more hasn’t changed that”, said Wim Galbusera, HR Director at HBO. 

Electric odyssey

True, but the total mileage has decreased, while the share of privately-driven kilometers has increased, noted Mr Helven. “It’s the latter segment that needs addressing, with flexible, multimodal and shared solutions.”

EVs won’t save the world. That was the bold title of Alexander Heijkamp’s presentation. The Sustainability and CSR Director for Athlon had gone roadtripping with an EV across the length and breadth of the continent. Did his electric car give up on him, and/or vice versa?

Far from it. He had only good things to say about his electric odyssey. “The question that always comes up with long-distance EV driving is: So, what’s the actual range? Instead of kilometers, I always answer: three hours and a cup of coffee. That’s a bit longer than you’re supposed to drive in one go anyway, if you want to avoid tiredness.”

The diesel option

Some other conclusions: in the last few years, EVs have come far – figuratively as well as literally. Mr Heijkamp’s EV planned where and how long to stop to recharge, even checking availability of the charging stations themselves. And unlike not so long ago, you don’t need 10 charge cards anymore: one will get you right across the continent. Conclusion: EVs won’t change the world – we will, by changing our attitude towards EVs.

Well, maybe not entirely. There’s an important caveat against electrification: it won’t work for all use cases. “If you have to drive 500 km for work every day, diesel is still the best option”, said Kerstin Meerwaldt (Corporate Strategy Sustainability, Head of Strategy Customer & Markets at BMW Group), at a panel on building carbon-zero fleets. So: “Sustainability is much more than just electrification.”

Not in the least because even EVs aren’t carbon neutral. Not if you factor in how they’re made and what they’re made from – which is what you have to do with all things coming up your supply chain, according to the rules of greenhouse gas accounting. 

Main plank

Even with that in mind, electrification is the main plank of most corporate fleets’ sustainability programme. “And there’s much bigger risk in acting too late than there is in acting too early”, commented Tomas Björnsson, CEO of InCharge and VP for E-Mobility at Vattenfall. “Top-down policy changes are important, but think of it also as change management. You have to convince people. We arranged EV test drives – those were decisive for many of our employees.”

That task can be daunting. “We’re an early adopter. We’re on target to have our own fleet CO2-neutral by the end of this year”, said Gavin Eagle, Managing Director at LeasePlan International. “Our larger target is to have our entire customer fleet CO2 neutral by 2030. That’s a giant undertaking.” Indeed: that’s 1.8 million vehicles. 

But for LeasePlan – and for everybody, really – the best time is now. “My key message for fleet and mobility managers? Use the pause in vehicle deliveries caused by the chip crisis as an opportunity to reassess your EV ambitions and build your mandate for far-reaching electrification within your company. Many companies are still at the beginning of the process. Do the heavy lifting now. You have more allies in your organisation than you realise.”

Supply chain

And not just in your own organisation. Also up the supply chain. Sabine Pannetrat, Director of CMF Design at DS and Creative Intelligence Leader at Stellantis, revealed how DS, through means creative, circular and sustainable, is sourcing a vast range of what goes into a premium car in a planet-friendly way. And Giacomo Carelli, CEO at FCA Bank and Chairman of Leasys, revealed his lease company’s ambition to go green. Not just by ramping up the number of EVs; also by innovative financing initiatives like green bonds, and by diversifying into more flexible and shared solutions. 

But there are some obstacles on the road to electrification: charging infrastructure and – when EVs become the norm – grid capacity. However, there are solutions available. “About 90% of charging will happen at depots or at work, wherever cars are parked long-time”, predicted Mr Eagle. BMW has been experimenting with battery storage and bidirectional charging, explained Ms Meerwaldt. 

What’s helpful, the panelists agreed, is consulting to establish which electrification targets are realistic, and looking beyond your own company to join organisations that can share expertise: “A problem shared is a problem solved.”

Mobility budgets

And – here’s that point from earlier on: sustainability targets go well beyond electrification, as pointed out by a panel on mobility budgets. Georges Gilkinet, deputy prime minister of Belgium and also the country’s mobility minister, explained that the federal government is mandating all company cars to be electric by 2030, but pointed out that electrification is only part of the mobility puzzle his government is trying to put together. “We have to use public transport, alternative mobility, Mobility as a Service and link up all of those with solutions for the first and last kilometer.”

Alain Visser, CEO of Lynk & Co International, was even more forthright: “Even if all cars are EVs, that’s still not the solution. Cars stand still for more than 90% of their lifetime. In the long run, that’s not sustainable. We need to move from a focus on cars to one on mobility. And it’s good to hear that governments support this.”

Karen van den Boom, SVP and CEO Benelux for Sixt, agreed: “There are about 10,000 charging stations in Amsterdam right now. If we go completely electric in five years time, not only will we need a lot more of those, the electric grid won’t be able to deliver enough capacity to charge them. So we need flexible mobility, and partnerships with various players and with the  government are needed to make that work.”

Part of the problem

“Mobility is freedom. But the car is no longer an instrument of freedom, it’s become part of the problem. We need mobility solutions. That’s what we’ll be investing in – and in the MaaS solutions to make those work”, said Mr Gilkinet. 

“But sometimes, public transport and last-mile solutions won’t get you where you need to go”, objected Ms Van den Boom. 

“About 30% of cars driving around European cities are looking for a parking space. But OEMs don’t really want sharing solutions, because that means they’ll sell less vehicles. They have to decide whether they want to be Boeing or Lufthansa. Unfortunately, it seems they’ve chosen the former. Yet people no longer want mobility as a product, but as a service”, concluded Mr Visser. 

Which path will we follow towards a sustainable future for mobility? It seems we will find out as we go along.

Left to right: Moderator Steven Schoefs, Tomas Björnsson (Vattenfall), Kerstin Meerwaldt (BMW Group) and Gavin Eagle (LeasePlan).

Image: Benjamin Brolet

Authored by: Frank Jacobs