The importance of the EU automobile industry in an interconnected world
When people here in Brussels talk about the auto industry, the discussion is often quickly reduced to cars and private mobility. ACEA is regularly described as the ‘car makers association’ by journalists, policy makers, interest groups and the like.
Message from ACEA’s Director General – February 2022
Yet, the automobile industry stands for so much more than privately-owned passenger cars alone. The types of vehicles that our industry produces, the missions they serve and the mobility solutions they provide, are all incredibly diverse.
ACEA’s members keep Europe on the move, offering a whole range of solutions for moving people and goods from A to B. Passenger cars and commercial vehicles (an umbrella term covering trucks, vans and buses) are the backbone of the EU economy. Because each vehicle type is so unique, together they can provide efficient and flexible solutions for a multitude of mobility needs and transport use cases.
The auto industry stands for so much more than privately-owned cars alone. The types of vehicles that our industry produces, the missions they serve and the mobility solutions they provide, are all incredibly diverse.
When it comes to moving people, we believe in a multimodal passenger ecosystem that is convenient, affordable and accessible for everyone. Buses, private cars, shared vehicles and ridesharing combined with walking, bicycles, mopeds, (e)scooters, trams and metros fulfil very different mobility needs – but all modes are complementary for our day-to-day mobility.
As we learned in January from Anna Carmo e Silva, the new Chairperson of ACEA’s Bus and Coach Committee, when operating at capacity “buses and coaches have the lowest carbon footprint per passenger of any form of motorised road transport.”
City buses are ahead of the curve in the transition to carbon neutrality, with the fleets of many cities already well on their way in making the switch to zero-emission vehicles. That is even more important knowing that buses are the most widely-used form of public transport in the European Union, serving cities as well as suburban and rural areas.
Indeed, over half of all public transport journeys in the EU are made by urban and suburban buses, accounting for some 32.1 billion passenger journeys per year! They are also the most cost-efficient and flexible form of public transport, requiring less urban space and minimal investments to launch new lines or routes.
Last but not least, buses improve social inclusion, providing access to education, employment and healthcare for all Europeans – including people on lower incomes and those who do not drive. It goes without saying that buses are an important link in the multimodal mobility chain, also complementing privately-owned and shared vehicles.
Over half of all public transport journeys in the EU are made by urban and suburban buses, accounting for 32.1 billion journeys per year!
Indeed, passenger cars remain the number one source of mobility for Europeans, taking us some 12,000 kilometres on average per year. In fact, over 70% of journeys in the European Union are made by car, including private cars, taxis and carsharing schemes. For over a hundred years, the private car has transformed modern society by providing freedom of mobility and improving life in so many ways.
Without individual mobility, adequate participation in social and economic life would not be possible in many cases, particularly for people living in remote areas, the elderly and those with disabilities. Passenger car travel also enables home care and medical assistance, as well as a range of emergency services.
Increasingly, however, Europeans are also starting to use carsharing, carpooling, ride-hailing and other on-demand services instead of their own private car, or simply to complement it. That’s mainly in urban areas for the time being, but the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) model really is at the core of the solutions that ACEA’s members increasingly provide, which include free-roaming carsharing schemes and subscription-based mobility services for example.
At the same time, we also need to realise that shared mobility comes in many shapes and forms. While we often tend to think of innovative schemes that allow for the sharing of cars or e-scooters through mobile apps or other cutting-edge technology, privately-owned vehicles also continue to play an important role in this respect.
While less visible perhaps, informal ways of car- and ride-sharing still have a major impact on our mobility ecosystem. As Professor Greg Marsden noted in a recent report on shared mobility: “Much sharing goes on informally, through family or social groups and often now organised via chat platforms such as WhatsApp.”
Increasingly, Europeans are starting to use carsharing, carpooling, ride-hailing and other on-demand services instead of their own private car, or simply to complement it.
When it comes to transporting such groups or big families, light commercial vehicles – commonly referred to as ‘vans’ – are another crucial vehicle type. Minibuses, for example, are the most effective means to carry small groups of less than eight passengers. That’s also why you often seem them being used as school buses or for the transport of people with reduced mobility.
Vans do indeed enable a broad range of activities with major added value for society, such as policing and rescue operations, ambulances, construction and repair work, mobile workshops, and postal and courier services. Serving very specific purposes and often coming with custom build-ups to satisfy specific needs (such as freezer boxes for food delivery), vans cannot be easily replaced by other transport modes such as public transport or carsharing.
Most importantly, vans are mainly used by SMEs as business tools, thus powering the European economy and helping our businesses to thrive. Enabling ‘last mile’ delivery in urban areas, vans are key players in the logistics chain. Thanks to vans, businesses can deliver goods right to their customers’ doorstep. This is all the more important given the surge in online shopping that doesn’t seem likely to stop anytime soon.
Vans are used by SMEs as business tools, thus powering the European economy and helping our businesses to thrive.
Finally, the fourth major vehicle type that keeps Europe on the move is of course the truck. With trucks carrying more than 73% of all freight transported over land in the European Union, road freight transport really is the backbone of trade and commerce on our continent.
Not only are trucks the most flexible, responsive and economic mode of transport for the vast majority of goods and freight, they are also essential to the functioning of the larger, integrated European logistics and transport system.
Trucks are part of a logistics chain that also comprises inland waterways, shipping, air and rail transport. However, those other transport modes also depend on trucks again to transfer freight to and from depots, rail terminals, airfields and ports. In modern economies 85% of road freight tonnage is carried over distances of 150km or less, along routes for which no other form of transport would be realistic.
Most of our daily necessities, such as fresh food from the supermarket or corner shop, electronics and appliances, clothing, and so on, depend on trucks at some point in the distribution chain. Likewise, many essential public services are delivered by trucks, such as garbage collection, fire and construction services. Depending on their mission, the majority of trucks are therefore custom-built on an individual basis.
When talking about the importance and added value of the EU auto industry as a whole, it’s important to emphasise the need to look beyond privately-owned cars.
It is about the wider transport and mobility ecosystem that we power. This comprises the vans that provide us with essential services, trucks that deliver our daily necessities and buses which are the most popular form of public transport. It also covers many innovations enabling on-demand, customer-focused mobility and transport services that make our industry and Europe fit for an interconnected future.
Director General of ACEA
With trucks carrying more than 73% of all freight transported over land in the European Union, road freight transport really is the backbone of trade and commerce on our continent.