Urban mobility Sustainability

The most prominent mobility challenges the automotive industry is facing

Thursday, 6 April 2023
Intertraffic caught up with Gert Blom, Chair of the Automotive week for a full update on the event in Helmond as well as an insight in the rapidly changing industry.

can you introduce yourself briefly?

“I am the Chair of the Automotive Week 2023, an initiative of 10 organisations. I am a self-employed mobility expert, now working for ACE Mobility. In 2019 I had the honor to chair the host committee for the ITS Europe Congress Brainport Eindhoven. I have been working for about 20 years in logistics and sales management positions, amongst others as a logistics supplier for the Automotive OEMs. I was 18 years working for the city of Helmond (NL) as mobility advisor and manager EU mobility projects.” 

Mobility is changing rapidly. Can you shed some light on the main mobility developments you are focusing on in the automotive industry?

“First of all, it is important to realize that the automotive and the mobility sector are coming together more and more, as you can also see in the Automotive Week from 16-19 April 2023. The automotive sector no longer is “just” engineering and producing vehicles, but it is about the vehicle within the mobility system as part of the transition towards a safe, sustainable and smart mobility system. This transition is also the focus in the automotive week: connected, automated and zero emission coming together. The automation part is more coming to a realistic level. Level 5 automation always and everywhere is not realistic for the coming years, but the digitalisation will have a huge impact in the future. In the Automotive Week we address this Tuesday 17 April with the theme: “Mobility in the Digital Society”.

The way towards zero emission on the other hand is going much faster than many would have expected a few years ago. The main problem will not be in the vehicles, but in the charging infrastructure and grid capacity and balancing. These subjects are addressed on the program on Wednesday 19th April: Mobility in a Zero Emission Future. Finally we need the right skills for realizing the transition in the automotive sector. The future automotive sector requires other skills and talents compared to some decades ago. Accounting for 7% of total EU employment, the auto industry provides direct and indirect jobs to more than 13 million Europeans. For all these people, a big transition is coming up. All this will be part of the discussions during the Automotive Week 2023.”

How do you think the automotive industry will evolve in a digital age like this? And how do keep pace with all these digital developments?

“The industry, in close collaboration with the public sector, works on achieving high societal targets: towards zero emission, zero accidents and zero congestion. Digitalization is a huge driver to achieve these goals. The industry is changing rapidly, new technologies and new players are joining forces with the more traditional partners. During the Automotive Week, we will address different new technologies, there are deep dives about digital developments and also demonstrations from one of the National Growth fund projects: Digital Infrastructure for Future Mobility.”  

What are the most prominent mobility challenges you are currently facing as an industry? And which hurdles do you need to overcome in the next few years to create future-proof automotive solutions?

“First a zero-emission future is a fact and something the automotive sector is prepared and very much willing to contribute to. I believe the automotive sector has changed very rapidly to deal with this challenge. Charging infrastructure however still is a real challenge. Directives from the EU to have a minimum number of charging stations in the public space are very helpful, but I still foresee some challenges ahead especially in the built environment in existing neighbourhoods.

Secondly automation, especially to level 5: Let’s go back to reality and start with the quick wins: using the technology to make vehicles safer and more efficient, without aiming at level 5 in the next coming years. ISA to me is a good example. And let’s focus at the most interesting use cases, such as last-mile shuttles or vehicle automation in (semi)-closed environments, such as ports. We still have many deployment barriers to face, one of them of course being cybersecurity. In the Automotive week demos on yard automation will be demonstrated by DAF Trucks and TNO.

Finally we have to deal with the issue of car ownership. It is becoming clear that all households having one or two cars, is not sustainable in the long run. Concepts like car sharing, shared mobility in general, will become more and more available and accepted by car users. This also will change the business models for the automotive sector.

With the advent of the European Green Deal the future of traffic demands lots of smart and sustainable solutions. How does the Dutch automotive industry play a role in this transition towards smart and sustainable solutions?

The target is to work towards the three zeros. New technologies are needed and being developed. The Netherlands can play a crucial role in this innovative high- tech sector. To give the sector another push, investment in R&D is necessary. The National Growth Fund is a good example. The Dutch industry needs to work on an international scale, to innovate but also to sell our innovative solutions. At this moment, 90% of the Dutch Automotive turnover (25 billion) is already being exported. With new innovative solutions for the global challenge, the sector can grow and play an important role in the green transition.”

"The lectures and demos in the Automotive Week give a good preview of these innovative solutions coming up."

How do we maintain the pioneering role of the Netherlands and keep the Dutch automotive sector strong, agile, and future-proof?

“We have to maintain the good private/public cooperation in the Netherlands. Industry, public authorities, universities, the research sector are all working together. The Netherlands is a leading country when it is about new technologies. Starting with the Telescope in 1608, and later with inventions like WiFi, Bluetooth and with the most complex machines on earth produced by ASML. Our pioneering role is needed in the global transitions of the automotive and mobility industry: we will create the technologies to keep the Dutch sector strong, agile and future proof and help solving global challenges!

We should however be more active again acting as “Testbed the Netherlands”. Concrete pilots and demos are needed between R&D and large-scale deployment. The Netherlands had the reputation to be front-runner and pioneer. I am afraid we could lose this position, we are missing the “learning by doing “spirit a bit in recent years. Also for this reason, “ seeing is believing, The Automotive Week is not just a congress, but we have many live demos running during the event; And maybe most important is to invest in education & research, in the next generation professionals. Education programmes at all levels reflecting and understanding the trends in the mobility and automotive sector.  We have to provide the next generation with the right skills to make the future safe, smart and sustainable.”

In what way can applied knowledge and research help the mobility community to be more flexible and agile and to respond quickly to change?

“I think we need education and industry working closely together in research projects, traineeships, long-life learning. For example the Automotive Center of Expertise ACE Mobility, being the linking pin between automotive industry and universities for applied sciences HAN and Fontys, focuses on projects on Human Capital, to attribute to professional and skilled students and employees.”

In your current role as business development manager ACE Mobility you have also introduced a special talent fair on the first day of the Automotive Week. How come and what are the activities during that day?

“Given the ‘war on talent’, the current labour market situation and the link to “EU Year of Skills”, we decided it would be useful  to have in this year’s edition a Talent Fair as a start of the Automotive Week 2023 on Sunday 16 April. It will be a real Meet and Match between companies and organisations looking for talent, mainly students and young professionals. Professional talent scouts will be present. But also a very interesting side-programme is scheduled with workshops, many demos of industry but also of student teams from all over the Netherlands. Nice to mention is the KIVI-award Ceremony for the best Student Team. This Sunday is all about the next generation automotive and mobility professionals. Those are the ones shaping their own smart, safe and sustainable future!”

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