European auto makers are driving into 2011 with the anticipation of an upcoming new industrial policy that will set a competitive strategy for sustainable growth through cooperative efforts among all European Union stakeholders.
The European Commission’s latest move in this direction is to re-launch the “CARS 21 High Level Group on the Competitiveness and Sustainable Growth of the Automotive Industry in the European Union,” a long title for an advisory group of auto industry and government specialists formed several years ago.
The EC has decided to regroup this team and have it write another report for release in 2012 that is expected to make a major impact on European automotive-industry policy.
That’s because the EC believes the industry is facing the challenge of a generation: designing and manufacturing electric, hybrid-plug-in and biofuels-capable vehicles, along with the infrastructure each requires.
EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani thinks a revised CARS 21 group is needed to bring these interests together so they don’t work in divergent ways. "The automobile industry is crucial for Europe as an economy and as a society,” he says in a statement.
“We need an ambitious and comprehensive strategy to foster its competitiveness and growth worldwide, while ensuring sustainability. By bringing all relevant interests to the same table, we will identify policies fit for the future."
The reconstituted 40-member expert group will assist and advise the Commission on boosting the industry’s competitiveness and environmentally friendly performance. This includes drafting specific policy recommendations for EU institutions, national governments, industry associations, business-and-consumer groups.
One key task will be developing principles of good conduct in writing contracts and agreements between auto makers, energy firms, governments, research groups and others.
This is to ensure all parties have a clear idea of what each is doing so work is not duplicated and advanced technology is more likely to be compatible – a key issue considering the need for major re-fueling and recharging networks.
The group also is being asked to conduct economic and statistical analyses of the changes facing the automotive industry.
Members will be appointed for two years and will be representatives of automotive and energy industry groups, consumers, environmental groups, governments, the European Parliament and the EC. There also will be sub-groups and technical panels reporting to the primary CARS 21 team.
It remains to be seen whether the new members can deliver on such an ambitious undertaking. Analysts question whether the new rules will force change and how many innovative technologies auto makers will agree to share.
The ACEA, the European auto makers association, appears upbeat. This time around, it says, CARS 21 will be broader in scope, offering a better opportunity for all industry players to be heard.
By linking different policy areas, such as vehicle manufacturing, energy, climate and trade, the revised policy advice should be better unified, which should produce more-concrete benefits.
“CARS 21 acknowledges the damaging effects of overregulation on the competitiveness of the auto sector,” says an ACEA spokesman, who hopes the new group will ease burdensome regulations.
Given the funding the EU and its institutions have available for loans and subsidies, along with the legislative impact on how auto makers work, a well-designed and executed EU industrial policy can make a tangible difference, the ACEA stresses.
It helps that the new CARS 21 goals agree with those of the ACEA, namely to “strengthen competitiveness and safeguard employment in the automotive sector in Europe and to (boost sales) of clean and energy-efficient vehicles,” the manufacturing group says.
ACEA President, Dieter Zetsche, who also is chairman of the board ofAG and head of the Mercedes-Benz car division, has no apparent doubts about reconvening and expanding CARS 21. “It is a positive sign of commitment that the group of participating EU commissioners has been enlarged,” he says.
Likewise, in a time of considerable economic downturn, the U.K.’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is positive about the CARS 21 re-launch: “We welcome this,” a spokesman says. “The group has a new form and a new mission for developing a competitive, sustainable industry.”
Despite the initial good will, analysts see a potential problem regarding the willingness of auto makers to share technology and design ideas.
Another concern is whether fringe groups will be satisfied their interests are included in any resulting industry policy shifts.
The European Metal Workers Federation, for instance, wants the new CARS 21 group to work with a planned Automotive Skills Council, which would ensure workers are well-equipped to deal with technical challenges of an auto industry becoming cleaner, greener and increasingly high tech.