When familiarity signals the remark …

It was like the earthquake that no one really noticed. In the wake of all the noise, anger and hubbub after COP26, I think we can take stock of what happened to the auto industry.

No one is happy after a COP summit. There are those who say the agreements were weak and that enough is not being done to mitigate climate change, and there are those who say the goals are impossible and will impose costs on ordinary regulated workers. by the rich sitting in wealthy cities with abundant and safe public transport. It is possible that they are both right.

But when it comes to the auto industry, the dominant analysis seems to be that it was, in terms of decarbonization, a flop. With the United States, China, Japan, Germany, Toyota, Volkswagen and Stellantis refusing to sign the zero-emission vehicle deal – essentially a deal to stop selling cars to internal combustion in major markets by 2035 – all of this has been a failure.

I would humbly disagree. Adding the 33 countries that have signed the pledge to those with existing plans means that one in four cars sold in 2035 will be electric. Technological transitions are not switches. They can be affected by regulatory changes, but they also occur for other reasons, such as economic incentives, design, engineering, and culture.

There was a time when steamboats shared the waterways with sailboats, and horse-drawn carriages shared the roads with the earliest forms of the automobile.

The underlying dynamic of non-signatories is an important part of this picture. Germany does not yet have a government after its election and was unable to sign anything at COP26, despite the likely coalition partners offering their support for the phase-out date of 2035. You can count Germany like “in”.

The United States did not sign, but General Motors and Ford did, which means that by 2035, based on 2019 market share, more than 30% of American car sales will be electric vehicles by 2035, and that does not allow the possibility of exponential growth of American electric vehicle (EV) start-ups, led, obviously, by Tesla.

The Audi e-tron dashboard. (Photo: supplied)

Likewise, because Canada signed the agreement and because the EU will phase out internal combustion cars and vans by 2035, more than 65% of U.S. car exports in 2035 will go to countries that have phased out internal combustion. suppressed internal combustion. The United States will become a leading manufacturer of electric vehicles no matter what the White House does.

China has strained diplomatic relations with the West and in particular the UK, so the COP deal was probably never on the agenda. However, electric vehicles are very much on the mind of China, with an official target of 25% of all sales by 2025 being “new energy vehicles” (which includes hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell cars and battery electric cars). China is likely to crush that target through sales of electric cars, and analysts believe NEV’s sales could reach between 70 and 90 percent of sales by 2030.

Volkswagen left the deal alone, I guess because it didn’t want to sign anything outside of the EU phase-out process in 2035 because its rivals (Toyota, Stellantis, BMW, etc.) will try without no doubt to put pressure to dilute the provisions of the European directive. In this case, with Volkswagen’s internal compliance culture having been quietly and fundamentally overhauled since Dieselgate, it was unlikely to sign. But Volkswagen is leading the charge of electrification in Europe and openly supports planning for the EU’s phase-out.

For BMW and Stellantis, opposition to EU plans and the COP deal can best be understood as a preparedness gap. After the COP, still using market data from 2019, around 35% of BMW’s sales will be in internal combustion engine phase-out (ICE) markets, and, for Stellantis, that figure is 48%. . I’m not sure these companies are really ready for this. Toyota, the real outlier in all of this due to its truly global footprint in all kinds of markets, sees only 8% of its market turning away from ICE in 2035. This will no doubt be reflected in its industrial planning and development. products and its lobbying in other key markets.

The interior of the Audi e-tron. (Photo: supplied)

So change is coming, and this will be reflected to a small extent in the local market over the coming year, despite the government’s absurdly regressive stance on electric mobility. In 2022 you can expect three electric Audi (e-tron, e-tron Sportback and e-tron GT), two electric BMW (iX3 and i4), four electric Mercedes-Benz (EQA, EQB and EQS, Mercedes- AMG EQS 55), the Rolls-Royce Specter, the Porsche Taycan GTS and possibly the Kia EV6, all complementing the existing electric range from BMW (i3) and Porsche (Taycan, Taycan Cross Turismo).

I did a quick drive in the Audi e-tron around Cape Town and Hout Bay recently ahead of its launch next year, and while I can’t claim to have given a full review, I can say that the most endearing feature of the car is that it looks and feels like an Audi SUV. This is praise, of course, but what I mean is that there is no performative conception to express its different transmission. In traffic, most road users would have no idea that the car is electric. This standardization of electric transmissions from one of the world’s largest car manufacturers is attractive.

Indeed, it was almost disappointing “normal”, as much as a top-of-the-range Audi SUV is still “normal”. It’s like I’m expecting more drama. This normality is, in its own way, an indication of the tipping point we have reached in automotive transmissions. When it comes to the feel of this car, how easy it is to use, and how practical it is for life, you can choose a diesel or electric car, just like you could have chosen between a gasoline or diesel car.

Audi has promised me more time in the e-tron, but, for now, I can say it’s big and luxurious, most like the Q7. It supports its size and weight well, and – specially equipped with virtual exterior mirrors (which will require a lot of adaptation time) – is an exceptionally quiet and comfortable family car, boasting amazing performance or handling in corners, or great design, but something much more important: familiarity.

Switching from diesel to electric has never been easier. You don’t have to be brave or terribly smart or technically skillful – just the kind of person who can afford a large Audi SUV. It’s a real change. DM168

Alexander Parker is journalist, author and consultant.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest dealer, please click here.


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