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Encouraging innovative transport research

The 2010 edition of the Transport Research Arena (TRA) Conference drew a wide range of road transport stakeholders, including the EU Commission's Directorate-General for Research and Technological Development (DG RTD).

The TRA 2010 expo
Innovation on display at TRA 2010
© Neil Maclean

The road transport industry is a major employer across the European Union. It is also critical to the smooth flow of goods and services, and the mobility of citizens, ultimately affecting the entire economic and social fabric of Europe. That is why road transport remains a key focus for the European Commission and why road transport research is a priority activity being funded under the 7th Framework Programme (FP7).

"An efficient transport system is a fundamental condition for sustainable development, wealth and prosperity in Europe."
– András Siegler, Director of Transport, DG Research

FP7 and road transport

The framework programme is the EU's main instrument for funding research, technological development and demonstration projects. FP7, running until 2013, is designed to respond to Europe's needs in terms of employment, competitiveness and quality of life. The programme has a total budget of over €50 billion, representing a substantial increase compared with previous framework programmes.

The FP7 allotment for transport research is €4.1 billion, aimed at supporting safer, greener and smarter transport systems for the benefit of all citizens. Sustainable surface transport, including rail, road and waterborne transport, is one of the areas supported under this budget. Topics include the development of cleaner and more efficient engines and power trains, reducing the impact of transport on climate change, intermodal transport, clean and safe vehicles, and infrastructure construction and maintenance.

A central role for ERTRAC

One of the seminal European Technology Platforms, the European Road Transport Advisory Council (ERTRAC) was established in 2003. Its strategic research agenda, delivered just one year after ERTRAC's launch, lays the groundwork for future road research and has provided invaluable guidance to formulators of the FP7 road transport work programme. Priorities include making transport greener, becoming more competitive and efficient, and responding to increasing demands for mobility and higher safety standards.

All for one – the ERA takes shape

To overcome the fragmentation of European research and development, the EU has been building better trans-border and cross-disciplinary links and enhanced collaboration between academia and industry. The resulting 'European Research Area' (ERA) enables researchers to move and interact freely and to share their knowledge, and it provides for better coordination of European, national and regional research programmes.

The Green Cars Initiative

As global markets continue to recover from the recent financial crisis, the health of the European car industry, a major economic driver, remains a concern. At the same time, pressing environmental matters mean all road transport stakeholders need to be encouraged to move towards more sustainable transport solutions.

The European  Green Cars Initiative responds to both of these needs, providing financial support today for green technologies that will propel our cars, trucks and buses tomorrow.

Green Cars was one of three private-public partnerships (PPPs) launched under the Commission's 2008 recovery package. It provides €5 billion to boost the automotive industry in a time of economic hardship, and to support the development of new, sustainable forms of road transport. €4 billion is being made available in the form of loans by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and €1 billion in the form of support for research, with equal contributions from FP7 and the private sector.

Despite its name, Green Cars is not just about passenger cars. Research is being funded in areas such as greener combustion engines for trucks, electric and hybrid vehicles and logistics. Financial support is also being complimented by demand-side measures, including EU and national regulatory action such as the reduction of car registration taxes on low-CO2 cars.

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