Rewiring our economic models?
Director of the FIM International Sustainability Commission
Recently we had the opportunity to participate in a meeting organised by the ACEM (European Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers), the trade association that represents the motorcycle manufacturing industry in Europe, on Sustainable Motorcycling in Europe. The 250 or so guests attending this event included representatives of the motorcycle industry, universities and motorcyclists' associations as well as several parliamentarians. Complete information about ACEM Annual Conference HERE
The topic “Sustainable Motorcycling in Europe” is a very broad one and it was interesting to note the growing interest aroused in the sector by the sometimes “confusing” notion of sustainability. I particularly appreciated the well-balanced composition of the panel which represented a range of different approaches and sectors .
As in other sectors of the economy, the concept of sustainability is not always well understood in the motorcycle business. This is a drawback, not only in this sector but in many others, because important topics are overlooked and, on many occasions, we focus our efforts on just a few aspects rather than embracing the broad scope covered by the term sustainability. The panel, who took part in wide-ranging discussions, was quite clear regarding the challenges we face as a sector, the main ones being climate change, noise and atmospheric pollution, and safety. However, there are also other challenges that must be incorporated into our reflexions on this issue, such as gender equality, poverty, partnership, smart cities, life on earth, and water, among others. All of these issues need to be incorporated into the general concept, especially when we are explicitly discussing sustainability.
Broadly speaking, a change of mind-set can be discerned in the sector: the manufacturers see the electrification of motorcycles as a reality in the short or medium term. This attitude may be related to the fact that the European Union has one of the most emissions-efficient economies in the world.
Most of the panellists concluded that the challenge is to achieve the electrification of vehicles (or find other source of energy, as I see it); but that is not the only aspect we must address. Product life-cycles (more sustainable processes, materials, etc.), for example, will play an indispensable role in the near future. This includes the source of energy, the final disposal of waste (batteries for instance) and the way companies are incorporating the circular economy model into their processes. And this is only the beginning of the story.
When we envisage the imminent switch to electrical technology, we must examine many factors and consider what the implications are. European standards on emission reductions and security are stringent and the trend is to minimise greenhouse-effect emissions in order to reduce global warming. How ready is the industry for this? And what will be the impact of this on the industry?
These are questions that need to be answered. Also, how will the sector really contribute to a reduction of emissions? Other aspects should also be considered such as industry emissions during the processes of manufacturing and also the emissions caused by transportation to sporting events, for example.
On the other hand, judging by the participation of some members of the plenary, leisure motorcyclists, or at least some of them, remain reluctant to change, especially the older generations for whom “noise” is part of the experience. There are a number of users who believe that if these regulations are enforced, they (the riders) will lose the freedom that a motorcycle offers. Driving with fossil-fuel combustion engines generates an engine sound that they do not wish to lose. Recently, Harley Davidson (traditionally associated with noisy bikes) launched a video promoting their new campaign based on electric bikes, promising that this freedom will not be lost. It is a matter of preferences and culture, but this is a very big step forward.
Another aspect to consider is how prepared cities are for this change. Cultural attitudes towards the “new” motorcycles will certainly play a role, and they are not the same in a Mediterranean city as in an Asian or Nordic one. The motorcycle culture is different as are the ways they use their bikes.
What are the positions of the motorcyclist associations and the manufacturers on the Paris Accords (COP21)? How is the sector going to contribute to these agreements? At least they should know the position at European Level and what is the position of FIM. This is something we shall have to work on.
Changes mostly offer great opportunities, and this phenomenon that is fast approaching will certainly provide a business opportunity for the sector, or so I would like to believe. It will bring new sources of work, new technologies and contribute to the achievement of some of the sustainable development objectives. Perhaps Formula E is a sign of things to come.
Electrification or the use of other sources of energy less polluting than the ones we currently use might be part of a great solution to the problems of transport (depending on the costs of the vehicles of course); the participation of governments and the inclusion of advantages for users such as tax reductions or tax incentives is also something that must go hand in hand with the whole introduction process.
European regulations E3 E4 & E5
From the environmental standpoint, any reduction in carbon emissions is a contribution to the fight against climate change, and that is a good thing. The industry will face an economic challenge as increases in costs are looming, not only for environmental reasons but also in connection with safety (incorporation of safety-guaranteeing components).
It will be crucial to strike a balance between reducing emissions, keeping jobs and economic growth. In my view, the approach should be based not only on the vehicles but on a global approach that includes the user, education, car sharing, public transportation, improving infrastructure etc.
Sport is a good showcase
The recently announced FIM e bike championship, which will be followed by others in off-road events, will be a good laboratory for the industry, but it will also be a very good marketing platform for promoting the new technology.
I am convinced that we are in the middle of a transitional era, and the attitude of the sector towards the challenges we confront will be a crucial factor in how we master that transition. As a sector we have many resources to contribute towards solutions that will turn those challenges into opportunities. We need to rewire our economic models and identify potential advantages for the future.