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EU and industry come together at EARPA conference

On 4-5 November 2009, EARPA members, EU officials and European road transport stakeholders came together in Brussels to review activities and research initiatives, and discuss the future of the automotive sector.

EARPA hits the road in Brussels © Peter Gutierrez
EARPA hits the road in
© Peter Gutierrez

EARPA is the European Automotive Research Partners Association. Its more than 30 current members represent the most prominent independent R&D providers in the automotive sector throughout Europe, ranging from large and small commercial organisations to national institutes and universities.

Speaking at this year's opening reception, EARPA Chairman Josef Affenzeller welcomed representatives of the European Commission and members of key transport organisations, including the European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA), the Forum of European National Highway Research Laboratories (FEHRL) and the European Council for Automotive R&D (EUCAR), all key players in European road transport research.

“It is again a great pleasure to see all of you,” said Affenzeller. “We have come a long way together but it doesn't stop here. We are working very hard, developing new strategies and welcoming new members to EARPA, all aimed at creating a better road transport system for industry and for the European citizen.”

Road transport, environment and competitiveness

Director of the European Commission’s DG RTD Transport Directorate András Siegler delivered a stirring speech on road transport in the year 2027. "Why do we look at the year 2027?" he asked. "Because that will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of EARPA. In that year, cars with internal combustion engines will still run on our roads but will use fuel sparingly. They will not be allowed in many of our town centres, because of noise and pollution constraints. Only hybrid and electric cars will be parked in busy city squares, plugged into charging stations. In 2027, decarbonised vehicles will represent 25% of the market, amounting to €50 to €90 billion."

Siegler went on to describe a future where the automotive sector has rapidly evolved and most cars are rented or shared. "Transport in general will still be major contributor to CO 2 emissions, but within the limits of European regulations.

"And why have all these things come to pass in the year 2027? Because in 2009, there was no other choice than to make it happen. The fact is that the automotive industry today is at a turning point. The crisis hitting the sector makes this all the more clear."

Siegler said today's generation of researchers has a unique responsibility at a time when so many things need to be changed. "And this is the opportunity, the opportunity to take on the serious challenges transport is facing, in order not just to maintain the mobility and quality of life of our citizens, but also to guarantee economic prosperity and sustainable development."

András Siegler and Josef Affenzeller © Peter Gutierrez
András Siegler and Josef Affenzeller
© Peter Gutierrez

Siegler cited actions already being taken by the EU, including the 'Green Cars' initiative. "Green Cars is one of the best examples of putting Europe at the forefront of knowledge-based competitiveness," he said, "and at the same time targeting a transition to greener and more sustainable transport. This has been our message since Lisbon 2000."

More challenges faced, more solutions needed

The Green Cars Initiative is a public-private partnership, where industry plays a central role in developing research roadmaps and implementing projects. Priorities are defined in a coordinated way; not only between all stakeholders, but also, and more importantly, between all concerned policy sectors: research, transport, energy, industry and information technologies.

Long before the economic crisis, Siegler pointed ou, the world was facing important challenges, including climate change, evolving demographics, an ageing population and energy security. Europe is also being challenged by new players in Asia and the 'BRIC' countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

"We are entering a new world," said Sieglar, "but if this is a new world, then in Europe we need new solutions, and we need the contributions of all European research and innovation programmes, with transport research right at the front."

PPPs now bridging gaps

Siegler underlined the role of large public-private partnerships with the industry have been launched. 'It's not just Green Cars," he said. "It is also the Joint Technology Initiatives such as 'Clean Sky' and 'Fuel Cells and Hydrogen'. Another recent example is the Strategic Energy Technology or SET Plan where research cooperation is strengthened by the setting up of industrial initiatives and research alliances."

The recently created European Institute of Innovation and Technology is also promoting cross-fertilisation and cross-funding between itself and other Community and national initiatives. In this context, EARPA members are actively participating in the preparation of future Knowledge and Innovation Communities through the GAST project, which brings together key players in research, education and innovation in the field of road transport. Such a project should enable the sector to become an important actor within the knowledge triangle.

Also on the agenda at the EARPA conference were Task Force updates. EARPA Task Forces cover the main automotive R&D areas and comprise expert members who come together to identify and discuss pertinent areas for new research.