Digital in Practice Programme

Smart mobility: is the EU in pole position in the global race?

30 Mar 2020

Report from the event

Speakers could not start without referring to the COVID-19 pandemic which is already taking a heavy toll in our region in terms of casualties as well as of economic damage. Praise was given to industries that are retrofitting manufacturing facilities with remarkable agility (e.g. 3D-printing) in order to help confront this unprecedented emergency. While the Commission is forging ahead with scheduled meetings and consultations, industry is focused on providing immediate, practical assistance: this raises a concern that industry might not be in a position to deliver on the Commission’s unchanged expectations regarding more run-of-the-mill items. Back to the grand scheme of things, it is even more important to « keep our eyes on the ball” since smart mobility is certainly part of the solution.

Panel Discussion - Moderated by Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director-General of DIGITALEUROPE

  • Speakers
    • Eddy Hartog, Head of Unit, Smart Mobility and Living, DG CONNECT
    • Pierre-Olivier Millette, Associate Director, Automated Driving Technical Policy EMEA at Intel Corporation
    • Marie-France van der Valk, Head of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance Brussels Office
    • Joost Vantomme, Smart Mobility Director, ACEA

Among concerns and challenges identified, some, like safety, are common to industry and consumers. Others are more relevant to industry, like competitiveness. We have put them in two separate sections for the sake of clarity.

Mobility for all

Smart mobility will not materialize if not embraced fully by European consumers: everybody has to be on board. Current developments bear the hallmark of cooperative, connected and automated mobility, which means that improvement doesn’t stop with vehicles: it encompasses the way we use them too. However ubiquitous, cars are only one of the agents of smart mobility.

Agreeing not to reinvent the wheel, rather to make the most of Europe’s winning assets and to rally consumers behind solutions that look simple will do the trick. But how to get there?

– Emphasis should be put on safety. This is the driving factor of massive acceptance. Furthermore, the EU happens to have a specific edge in this respect : suffice it to see how good European drivers have been lately at using leading-edge safety-related technology. Indeed, consumers will give new technology a chance if they can see the benefits of shifting. In this respect, new or revisited legislation is probably needed, with the attendant challenge of bringing new players up to speed with the baggage carried by incumbents so far.

– Make it simple should be our mantra: think charging stations (‘Plug & Charge’); or harmonized road signalling so that cars won’t stop at the border; or extended interoperability, etc. This concern should guide us across the EU and beyond, from France’s ADEME to the global approach of the World Electric Vehicle Association, to take an example.

– Make it attractive : growingly sustainability-conscious consumers will sure have a soft spot for decarbonized mobility, thus making electro-mobility an easier sell.

– Build confidence : don’t bet on blackboxes but on transparency instead. See NeMo project, whose vision is to create a Hyper-Network of new and existing tools, models and services to provide seamless interoperability of electro mobility services, creating an open, distributed and widely accepted ecosystem for electro-mobility.

– Contain costs : consumers will switch only to affordable solutions. They will resent smart mobility limited to the happy few. This attitude hits across the board, not only electro-mobility. It calls upon governments and industry to be creative together.

– Explain: the burden of raising awareness must be shared between all stakeholders, not limited to OEMs since car manufacturing is only a subset of smart mobility.

Mobility by all

The challenges ahead need all stakeholders to join forces. DIGITALEUROPE has been a significant contributor to this team effort over the last five years, with significant results : at least mobility-related industries fare better than comparable sectors in this respect. Cooperation is definitely a winning strategy to position Europe vs the rest of the world. As we are moving forward in making digital tech fit for smarter mobility, this goal should prevail over that of digitalizing mobility. The measures announced on 19 February should be seen as the continuation of EU policies, only with enhanced determination: it is time to switch from high-minded talk that nobody can disagree with to practical steps even though they may pit some players against others. The future of mobility has to gain from working in sync with the energy sector.

For all this gung-ho pitch, there is still room for improvement. For instance, much of the decision-making still belongs to Member States, with associated fragmentation exemplified in testing: what is approved on this side of the border should be so on the other side, and it is not necessarily the case at present. The Commission can help, but so can industry, by supporting the Commission with more information of relevance : this is what DIGITALEUROPE has been good at over the years.

In addition, products should be pushed faster to market.

Europe is blessed with a tradition of leading the world in many areas of mobility: aerospace, high-speed trains, road vehicles (the first electric car was invented in Europe), etc: this makes for a good start in smart mobility. Electro-mobility remains a pillar for homegrown innovation, and well worth additional public support since it is a no-brainer for sustainability-conscious users. But you also need a well inter-connected ecosystem for this virtuous circle to start : for instance, charging stations have to be ubiquitous and easy-to-use.

Regulation should be adjusted wherever appropriate. The GDPR is a case in point as data access becomes the single most important driver of the future of smart mobility, and so is the e-Privacy legislation.

In the same vein, DG MOVE is reportedly toying with the idea of regulating any data flow other than traffic-sensitive. This would be premature. There is no use case likely to demonstrate the need to regulate this area. Solutions will come forth provided we do not jump the regulatory gun.

Furthermore, you cannot regulate yourself to be a winner: it simply doesn’t work. As illustrated by the AI HLEG approach, it is wiser to address high-risk areas and learn from these compelling cases to take up less exposed fields of activity.

Standards have a proven record of facilitating the spread of innovation: production made simpler will in turn make products and services easier to explain to consumers. We have to be careful though that standards shaped at EU level should be compatible with those developed in a global context. This is an invitation to the EU to make its voice stronger internationally : ISO-developed standards have been of immense value to everyone around the world. Standards are good at securing a level playing field by way of the ‘common language’ they carry with them. They also make for easier dialogue with public authorities. Another area where to exert caution is tech neutrality : we shouldn’t favour one technology over another.

It may be fitting to the title of this workshop to realize that the EU boasts 37.2% of worldwide patent applications for self-driving vehicles, vs 3% for China, 13% for Japan and 33.7% for the US. On the patent front though, a worrying issue has emerged lately: more and more companies are reportedly uncomfortable with the FRAND terms of licensing and therefore inclined to downright forego licensing for the sake of creating market power and taking advantage of it. If confirmed, this trend towards ownership may take us away from where solutions are to be found, i.e. from sharing. Designers of software and those operating it are usually working well together. This troublesome development may boil down to failed communication with public authorities : again, DIGITALEUROPE is happy to go the extra-mile to this effect.

Standards always come with maturity: we are well on our way as regards smart mobility.

Services and data access

Like in most sectors, car manufacturers are no longer ‘pure players’, they increasingly provide services as ‘Mobility as a Service’ takes up. This is where OEMs can borrow a leaf from the IT industry. They are actively engaged in talks with mobile operators, IT industry, energy, road operators, etc:  “We need each other”, they say. The Holy Grail lies in finding an elusive balance. For instance, cars are fed a diet of roadside signalling which has to be harmonized or interoperable if they are not to be stopped at the border. Information has to be shared in digital format for optimal, instant spreading, for example on warning about a slippery section of the road ahead. Green commitments is another must, as illustrated in the Arcade database.

Exchanging data is indeed of the essence. In this respect, those data resulting from heavy investment in R&D (the European automotive industry spends 28% of all R&D across the EU) are to be shared in keeping with IPR protection, also with a level playing field in mind. Actually, asymmetry of information is an issue, as DG COMP realized recently. These considerations are worth keeping in mind on comparing notes with other sectors. For example, cities may well need data that belongs not only to car manufacturers, but also to ride-sharing or ride-hailing providers. For lack of Europeans’ ability to get their act together in this regard, third countries will legitimately step in.

In this respect, the goal of a level playing field is a fair question. DG COMP is dealing with asymmetry born of market power and possible abuse of this asymmetry. Data actually come in a variety of forms and uses. There is a big difference, for instance, between essential data, e.g. those instrumental to traffic safety, and non-essential ones, e.g. those related to onboard entertainment centers. A possible stance may mirror the risk-based approach used in the GDPR or in the recommendations of the AI HLEG.

Marketing hype has not always served the industry well, as it tends to raise expectations unduly. But more importantly Europe enjoys an amazingly rich fabric of inventive developers that are a prime asset in a global perspective. Perhaps the right approach would be to take a distance from existing agents of mobility and to switch to transportation modes we are less familiar with.

Whatever works to stay ahead of competition, there is a consensus that Europe has to ride the wave of smart mobility by taking advantage of its many assets, starting with its original lead worldwide. While the direction of travel seems good, this conversation made it clear that now is not the time to rest on our laurels: global competiton is heating up and our region of the world has no monopoly on creativity or innovation. An open communication channel between government, industries concerned and users has worked well so far; there is no excuse for not bringing it up urgently to the next level.

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