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Developing truly sustainable cars: Beyond the electric vehicle

Developing truly sustainable cars: Beyond the electric vehicle

Episode two of our podcast mini-series, The Driving Force, welcomes Vincent Ricco, Innovation Director of Novares, a tier one automotive supplier, to be our guest. Vincent shares his insights on how we create truly sustainable cars, from design of individual parts right through to purchasing models. He discusses current innovations and the challenges that need to be overcome within the current infrastructure, the impact of government policies and the role of technology on delivering the innovations required. 

Read on for some snippets of this thought provoking conversation or listen now to full episode.

What is the Novares Nova Car programme?

‘It’s an open innovation programme, where we try to understand how the market will evolve from the megatrend point of view. We then undertake some ideation workshops in order to define what could be the different applications we will be able to develop and then we either do it internally as an organic growth development, or with partners. The Nova Car programme aims to go from the proof of concept stage to the minimal viable product. Next stage is to understand what could be the business model of a solution, and also to promote our innovations to our customers.’


Is sustainability driving your innovation? Or is your innovation driving sustainability?

‘I would say, there is no chicken and egg; at the end of it’s evolution. It’s a good opportunity to do something new, to do innovation in the future and to adapt to the change because if I’m a bit provocative, innovation is not necessary. But survival is not mandatory. And it means indeed, to be able to adapt to the change in the market. You need to do innovation.’


What would you say to a company that says they are meeting their compliance regulations, but wants to know why they should go beyond that, seemingly making themselves less competitive? 

‘First, I would say, it depends on the timeframe. If you are really focused on the very short term, it means you do not need to change anything. The only issue is that the long term is made with short terms. And if you add short terms on short terms, then at the end of day, you haven’t changed anything. And that’s the balance we need to find. Meaning that we need to find a trade off between what would be the impact in the long term, and what kind of action we can do in the short term to be in the right position in the right direction in the future.’


Is there going to be more mandatory rules for big corporates to have to report on their emissions?

‘I would say I hope so. Because today in the industry, we have to comply to the scope one, two and three, which is a way to evaluate the co2 emissions of a company. So the scope one is integrating every direct emission that companies are generating, for example, when you’re manufacturing, you’re generating direct emissions. Scope two is accounting, the indirect emissions due to your electricity mix. For example, if you’re using renewable energy, or if you’re using nuclear power, you are generating less co2 than if you’re using coal as primary resources to generate your electricity. And scope three is everything else, I would say upstream of your supply chain and downstream or your supply chain. But in the industry, the only commitment from regulation you have is to count and to report is component two. Scope three is not mandatory.’


So understandably, your business is being more driven by the OEMs, i.e. your customers, than it is by European government policy?

‘So the European government policy is putting the constraints on OEMs, and then it gets passed down the supply chain. But to be proactive, it’s also to look at how the law and how the regulation will evolve and to see what kind of development we can do to keep ahead and also to anticipate and to make the right choice in terms of development.’


What do you mean by perceived sustainability?

‘You need to work on two sides of it; what I would say is the rational sustainability, do you reduce the co2 emissions when you are developing the part? But also the perceived sustainability; do you give the impression that it is sustainable? We are social animals and so when we are using a product, we have the feeling to use a part which has a low impact on the environment. And that’s a challenge we will face because we are developing plastic components. And even if we are using bioplastics with a very low co2 emissions or even negative co2 emissions the perception of a customer would still be that they are using just plastic.’


Do you think we will ever get to the point of a fully recycled car?

‘Some OEMs are working on that and we are trying to support them in this process. But for that, the full ecosystem will have to evolve to support that because it’s less about how to use recycled material than to have a clear vision of the full lifecycle assessment.’


What other sustainability challenges do you foresee in the automotive industry?

‘Up to about 2010 the costs of a car followed inflation, but then safety regulations were added and then CO2 regulations also, increasing the cost of a car way beyond inflation.  

And now we are at a point where the challenge of the automotive industry is not to cannibalise their buyers and customers. Because for me, one of the key elements will be a social limit for people to be able to afford to buy a car, a new car. So I can see two scenarios; either we continue business as usual, to be able to and have to buy new cars; or switch to a mobility service environment where everybody would lease a car.’


How many years are we away from genuine transition from selling cars as a product to selling cars as a service?

‘It would be a big transition. So if it is happening, it would take something like 15 to 20 years. One of the headwinds we would face is the scarcity of resources, which can accelerate such a process, starting with saying that indeed, for me, the big issue will be the social impact, and the affordability of mobility service.’


What is Le French Tech?

‘It was created something like seven years ago, I guess, to support a political push to create innovation, and something like 20 or 30 thousands of startups have been created. So it’s really huge. As of today, I would say there are pros and cons. The pro part of it is that it has created very good movement, because entrepreneurship – French culture is not a culture where you take risk – and this has created a big move, because entrepreneurship is taking risk. So obviously, by making failures, you can learn and can build something new, that’s for me, I would say the good part of it. The drawback of it is that it is needing a lot of capital investment. And so, there was a kind of bubble created for the last five to seven years and valuation of startups could become crazy. Now, it is slowing down a bit. The capital investment is decreasing, which is a good sign because it means that the market of capital investment is consolidating. And now the investment on startups is going more on more tangible projects which have some potential in the future. And sustainability is a part of the topic.’ 


Listen to the full episode – available now

To hear everything Vincent has to say on the future of sustainability in the automotive sector, including how he sees a future leasing model, whether we’ll ever be able to re-fit our car interiors and why to be truly sustainable we need to think way beyond just making cars electric. Listen to the full episode on our website or through your favourite podcast channel. 



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