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Commission challenges road industry to ‘get green’

Speaking at the ERTRAC event in Brussels on 26 January 2009, European Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik called on road transport stakeholders to come up with a clear vision for the next generation of transport solutions by the middle of 2010.

The ERTRAC event in Brussels © Peter Gutierrez
ERTRAC in Brussels
© Peter Gutierrez

“Exceptional times call for exceptional measures,” said Potočnik. “But this can also be a major opportunity. The world economic crisis is pushing everyone to move fast and this includes the political powers. The time is ripe to take some tough and important decisions and to invest in the future, but we need your knowledge and your wisdom, we need you to be part of the solution.”

Much of the discussion at the ERTRAC event revolved around the unprecedented downturn in the automotive sector. “Who could have predicted the extent of this crisis?” asked Potočnik. “All of our major European auto manufacturers are in deep trouble today, in terms of sales, in terms of jobs, in terms of competitiveness; the future of the entire sector is at stake. There is simply no room for inaction. We must move quickly.”

Time to stop talking

Potočnik set a deadline of the next TRA conference, to be held Brussels in June 2010, for stakeholders to deliver a clear vision for future road transport, including greener solutions that will save energy, improve efficiency and address climate change.

Janez Potočnik © Peter Gutierrez
Janez Potočnik
© Peter Gutierrez

“Even without the economic crisis, we have been facing urgent environmental problems,” he said. “These problems have not gone away. We are impatient now. We have been a long time talking. Members of ERTRAC, you are now in the driver’s seat, and to the rest of the road sector I say you can be part of the solution or you can be part of history.”

ERTRAC Vice Chairman Helmut List agreed. “We have the ideas and the people,” he said. “What we don’t have is time. Innovation and research are keys to overcoming this crisis, but we need to take action now.”

List said ERTRAC stakeholders are committed to a new system-wide European approach. He called for more co-operation among the ETPs and cited new initiatives between ERTRAC and EPoSS, the European Technology Platform on Smart Systems Integration. He also stressed transport ‘electrification’ as a fruitful area for new work.

“The European Technology Platforms, including ERTRAC, are showing the way,” said List. “We are now taking a multi-stakeholder approach to the electrification of transport and especially urban transport, a process to include drivers and other users.”

What is ERTRAC?

One of the seminal European Technology Platforms (ETPs), the European Road Transport Advisory Council (ERTRAC) was established in 2003 and immediately moved forward with impressive speed. Its Strategic Research Agenda (SRA), delivered just one year after ERTRAC’s launch, lays the groundwork for future road research and has been a major guide in the formulation of the transport work programme of the Union’s Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7).

Support for young researchers

Developing the road transport solutions of the future also means developing a new generation of research scientists and engineers.

At the ERTRAC event, Commissioner Potočnik officially launched the Young European Arena of Research (YEAR) 2010 competition. Aimed at early-stage researchers in the road transport sector, winners will receive the YEAR award for scientific promise at a special ceremony at the TRA 2010 conference in Brussels.

New vehicles on display © Peter Gutierrez
New vehicles on display
© Peter Gutierrez

“YEAR 2010 will spotlight the most exciting and creative research being carried out by students from all over Europe,” said organiser Eugene O’Brian of University College Dublin. “Students are being asked to submit abstracts in six categories. This important competition gives students an opportunity to display, explain and discuss their work with established experts in the field. All finalists will be featured at the TRA exhibition.”

Latest developments on display

The ERTRAC event also featured some of the most promising new vehicles and other road transport technologies, including the Van Hool fuel cell bus, currently being tested in several European countries, FIAT’s ‘Phylla’ and ‘Cinquecento’ electric cars, Volkswagen’s ‘SpaceUp Blue’ electric vehicle with fuel cell range extender, Arsenal Research’s electric motorcycle, AVL’s modified BMW ‘Turbohybrid’ and the Belgian Road Research Centre’s impressive ‘Curviameter’ road testing vehicle.

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