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Zapping Autonews Green The expert’s eye: connected with the Mazda MX-30

Bruno Camus

Bruno Camus is Doctor of Management, Professor of Marketing at Kedge Business School. Author of several books published by Editions d’Organisation and academic articles, his research work is very focused on the automotive sector with which he also works as a consultant.

For Autonews, he analyzes and decodes manufacturers’ strategies and sheds light on the complexity of their market and their environment.

An already old technology

Photo d’illustrationCredit Photo – Porsche

Synthetic fuels, also called “synthetic gasoline” or “e-fuel” are energy artificially produced chemically from CO2. To put it simply (engineers will forgive this simplistic popularization), it is a question of combining carbon dioxide with hydrogen. This fuel is therefore no longer of petroleum origin, which gives it the status of a clean product. The manufacture of synthetic fuel is carried out in the laboratory or in factories powered by wind energy.

This technology is not new. During the Second World War, the German army had already developed synthetic fuels to make up for the lack of available oil. The approach was limited in volume but had given satisfaction. After the war, the abundance of oil and the lack of ecological consideration had put an end to this alternative.

Ecological pressure

Ecological pressure

Photo d’illustrationCredit Photo – Yayimages

Everyone knows that in recent years, the pressure of environmental standards has led the automotive sector to move towards the design of clean vehicles. The phenomenon is global, and in Europe, the States are committed to drastically reducing emissions of CO2 and particulate matter. To support this change, tax incentives or penalties have been increased to motivate or dissuade consumers. In France, the highest ecological penalties result in a price increase, which will double the price of the vehicles affected over the next two years. Consequently, sports cars with thermal engines are condemned, and moreover the manufacturers renounce them. Thus sports compacts like the Renault Megane RS or Peugeot 208 GTI are no longer in the catalog of these brands. In addition, large cities have for their part decided to limit or even prohibit access to their centers to the most polluting vehicles by establishing Low Emission Zones.

The manufacturers have therefore turned, with more or less speed and resignation, towards the hybrid and the electric. Investments amount to billions, and lead to profound changes. We are talking about the third industrial revolution. Some brands have even announced that all of their ranges will only be offered in hybrid-electric or all-electric, in the short term. This is particularly the case of Volkswagen or Jaguar. The entire market is affected, from city cars to luxury cars. All avenues have been explored: electronic management of fuel consumption, improved aerodynamics, reduction in engine size, reduction in displacement, etc. But they are not sufficient to fully meet the standards, especially since the weight of the vehicles have continued to increase due to safety and comfort equipment. The SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) segment, which has been popular with customers for several years, is now penalized by a new method of calculating penalties based on the weight of the vehicle.

It had therefore become inevitable that all manufacturers turn to hybrid-electric. Either to offer mobility compatible with regulatory constraints and meet the needs of consumers, or to compensate for insufficient power of heat engines by adding an electric motor. This also allows certain “supercars”, such as Mac Laren for example, to achieve considerable cumulative power while benefiting from favorable taxation.

Although still expensive, the hybrid-electric offer, stimulated by premiums, is attracting more and more customers. In France, its market share fell from 7.6% in 2019 to 21.5% in 2020, while gasoline fell by more than 10 points, 58 to 47%, and diesel by 4 points, 34 to 30% ( Sources CCFA – French Automobile Manufacturers Committee). In less than 20 years, Diesel will have gone from 60 to 30%. In 2020, nearly 450,000 hybrid-electric vehicles were registered, in a market that fell by 21% overall (source CCFA). There were only 1000 in 2010. The phenomenon is spectacular, and seems to have no return.

Oil and ideas

Oil and ideas

Photo d’illustrationCredit Photo – Porsche

Oil companies estimate that around 1 billion thermal vehicles are on the planet and that they cannot be suddenly renewed. In addition, not all countries are equally environmentally conscious. Hybrid-electric is also not completely virtuous, because its production methods, including batteries, are not exempt from criticism. There is also the question of recycling these batteries. Finally, as we have said, despite government assistance, the purchase of a clean vehicle remains expensive. Manufacturers are trying to lower prices, like Dacia which offers its Spring model at 16,800 Euros, excluding ecological bonus (12,400 once deducted), but with very limited services and performance.

Despite a certain climate of autophobia, people continue to love the automobile. Attendance at trade fairs, audiences at sporting events, and the distribution of the specialized press, testify to a permanent interest, even a passion in many cases. They particularly like the noises of engines, and are frustrated to hear only a few whistles when an electric vehicle passes. The e-formula races do not have the same appeal as their thermal counterparts; and this is not lost on the more and more manufacturers who are offering a function that restores conventional noise. A lesser paradox …

However, the combustion engine, greedy and polluting is doomed, no one disputes it today. So, alternative solutions, bringing together the best of both worlds, are studied. And so here is the return of synthetic fuel.

A serious alternative

A serious alternative

Photo d’illustrationCredit Photo – Porsche

Motor racing, and particularly Formula 1, has always served as a laboratory for new technologies, which can then be adapted to “Monsieur Everyone” cars. The latest FIA (International Automobile Federation) agreements provide for a new generation of engines by 2025. Based on the observation that current racing cars, clad with electronics, energy recovery and hybrid engines impose constraints development and astronomical budgets, all the players are seriously interested in the potential of renewable fuels. Whether it is “bio” or synthetic energy, they have the advantage of being usable without major modification of the current technique, and constitute a specific evolution of the combustion engine. Their production can be designed from solar or wind sources, thus giving the overall production cycle an added value in environmental terms, much more virtuous than that of the manufacture of batteries. Oil companies are naturally very sensitive to this possible development, as are manufacturers who seek to balance their dependence on all electric.

Porsche, BMW and Audi have already undertaken to study this option and are investing accordingly, by forging partnerships with equipment manufacturers such as Siemens or Bosch. These brands are historically and culturally innovators. They developed supercharging on production cars in the 1970s (BMW and Porsche Turbo), 4-wheel drive on sports and touring cars since the 1980s (Audi Quattro). It is also Audi which made diesel triumph in endurance in the 2000s (victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans), and Porsche in Hybrid in the 2010s. Audi is also working on hydrogen by announcing a return to Le Mans in 2022 with this engine.

The Germans are therefore on all fronts, also developing a hybrid-electric or all-electric range. It is a way to remain a leader and efficient, as well as to give oneself every opportunity to develop the company sustainably.

Synthetic fuel may save the heat engine, even if it is no longer the only option to be able to continue driving in the future. As we can see, the automobile still has good prospects for innovation.



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