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An interview with Patrick Fruth, CEO Division Mobility at TÜV SÜD: The mobility sector – caught between a rock and a hard place?

Last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) identified transport as one of three critical sources of carbon emissions. Consequently, countries, businesses, automotive manufacturers, and other stakeholders signed a declaration of commitments to reach 100% zero emission vehicle sales by Interview with Patrick Fruth2040 or earlier. The European Union (EU) has gone one step further and mandated that car emissions for all new vehicles must be cut to zero by 2035.

The global push to reduce carbon emissions is driving the development of alternative vehicle drive trains. E-mobility innovations, such as battery-electric vehicles (BEV), fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) and hydrogen (H2) internal combustion engine vehicles (H2-ICEV), are the future of a decarbonised automotive sector. Also, highly automated driving functionality in public transportation (e. g. people movers) will play an increasing role in reducing emissions, especially in urban environments.

However, while climate change demands a radical change in the way the world consumes energy, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have created serious inflationary pressures for global economies, impacting both the energy industry and e-mobility supply chains.

With Patrick Fruth, CEO of the TÜV SÜD Division Mobility, we discussed the current challenges the mobility sector is now facing and how we are moving towards more and more sustainable mobility solutions.

The automotive sector has seen rapid technological change as we move towards ‘new mobility’, but what has been the impact of recent global events?

P. Fruth: The COVID-19 pandemic is still having a major impact on our industry. Manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers were hit hard by the shortage of microcontrollers, assembly parts and logistics, and the current crisis in Ukraine has further exacerbated this. Global economic inflationary pressures are compounding the issue, and we are now experiencing an increase in the price and availability of the raw materials required for the manufacture of electric vehicles (EVs).

This will have a major impact on the mobility industry’s current transformation, threatening the expansion of EVs. The production of combustion engine vehicles is also being affected as Ukraine is a major supplier of cable connections, as is Russia of palladium for catalytic converters.

"We also need to invest in sustainable infrastructure."

However, the extended sanctions against Russia also led to an embargo of Russian energy and if we want to become independent from that energy supply, and in general from fossil fuels, we must invest in sustainable infrastructure. The dichotomy we face is that the market demand for EVs is evident, but its success depends heavily on raw material availability. 

How can the industry address these problems in the short-term?

P. Fruth: The mobility sector is truly caught between a rock and hard place as we experience supply chain and pricing issues, while consumers want an alternative to vehicles powered by expensive and polluting fossil fuels. I therefore believe that hybrid technology will provide an effective bridge to compensate for the current challenges in the medium-term, until the EV market will once again flourish and continue to grow.

For now, in view of potentially declining sales, it is even more important for manufacturers to embrace innovation and introduce new ways of doing business. For example, the introduction of digital services, such as our TÜV SÜD BlueNOW! app for remote vehicle appraisal, will help to increase sustainability at car dealerships by standardising and digitalising processes, speeding up throughput, and lowering costs - all of which also has a positive impact on manufacturers’ and retailers’ bottom lines.

Alongside the automotive industry’s focus on new mobility technology development, intermodal micro mobility, and automated and electrified urban mobility concepts are becoming increasingly popular as part of the transition towards a more sustainable mobility ecosystem. These efforts are driven mainly by cities, municipalities, and fleet operators.

Once mainstreamed, these services have been found to offer a significant environmental benefit, as well as the potential to reduce the sheer number of vehicles in urban spaces. Such systems have already become a common feature of the modern urban landscape in many cities worldwide and vehicles used include cars, vans, e-bikes, motorcycles, and scooters. Over time we will see more and more people movers in operation.

What does a sustainable future look like for the automotive sector?

P. Fruth: The pressure is on for automotive manufacturers, their supply chain, and other stakeholders to develop new technologies that support the global goals of minimising emissions and reaching the net-zero target. Alternative fuels, such as synthetic e-fuels produced using renewable primary-energy sources, are an option to reduce emissions for the existing traditional drive train vehicle fleet, as well as special use cases. Other innovative technologies, that offer the potential for long-term decarbonisation of transport modes, are also in development.

E-mobility provides clean and efficient transport by using EVs powered either by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. These new demands upon manufacturers will make e-mobility specifications, testing and compliance ever more critical. There’s no doubt that while EV battery technology has developed a pace, industry’s ability to deliver this transition effectively and on time will require significant effort from all involved.

While the entire EV industry faces major challenges, there are countless innovation opportunities, such as reduced charging times and minimised battery degradation, which are driving innovative designs and developments. However, batteries and software management are both the beating heart and the Achilles heel of e-mobility, and a truly sustainable future must also address the issue of battery reuse.

"A truly sustainable future must also address the issue of battery reuse."

The traction battery is the most expensive component in an EV, so it’s vital that its residual value and capacity can be accurately assessed. Bringing more value certainty to vehicle remarketing will extend the life of EVs and improve their carbon footprint. TÜV SÜD and AVILOO’s flash test delivers reliable results on the state of batteries in used EVs within a few minutes, thereby providing a cost-effective remarketing solution for car dealerships, vehicle workshops and commercial customers. The issue of battery reuse also applies to a battery’s use after the vehicle has been decommissioned, as it begins its second life as an energy storage device.

Particularly for trucks and other commercial vehicles, sustainable solutions are becoming increasingly important. Which major trends do you see in this area?

P. Fruth: While the commercial vehicle market is smaller than the passenger vehicle one, this sector contributes to around 30% of the entire GHG emissions in transportation. Therefore, vehicle automation, connectivity and new types of powertrains are gaining increasing importance within this specific mobility sector.

The growing use of automated assistance systems in commercial vehicles will increase driver and vehicle safety. Also, with the push towards stricter emission standards the efficiency of commercial vehicles is gaining importance. Besides the electrification of trucks, hydrogen propulsion systems will become more popular. While it is a more expensive technology, advantages like zero emissions, the possibility of quick refuelling, and long-range capabilities will make this technology attractive to the commercial transportation sector.

How will testing approaches need to evolve to keep pace with mobility innovation?

P. Fruth: To access global markets successfully, automotive manufacturers need the support of experts that have extensive experience of testing and benchmarking advanced driving systems, especially against the vast range of international standards and regulations.

Also, the periodical technical inspections (PTI), which ensure safety for all kind of cars, need to be adapted to new technologies and circumstances. This means that alongside safety evaluations for traditional vehicle components, automated and connected driving systems, as well as sensor systems and specific safety-relevant vehicle functions, must be considered and tested. Therefore, simulation-based software checks will become essential to ensure that all vehicle software is up to date, alongside EV battery testing during PTIs. By safeguarding the overall vehicle safety, as well as considering all new systems, software and functions, the vehicle lifetime can be expanded, thus contributing to sustainable car usage.

"Simulation-based software checks will become essential to ensure that all vehicle software is up to date."

New mobility solutions will also require monitoring of the interface between the human operator and the machine, and the security verification of the car-to-car (c2c) and car-to-infrastructure (c2x) communication, as well as software management. Cybersecurity therefore plays a crucial role, especially to ensure a system that can be trusted to hold all vehicle data. To verify vehicle safety, safety-relevant vehicle data can play an important role in inspections and would support testing, inspection, and certification (TIC) organisations in delivering the best independent TIC service possible.

Trust, safety, and certainty are the preconditions that are essential if new mobility is to become part of our lives any time soon.

Despite these current challenges, how sustainable is the automotive future?

P. Fruth: There is an enormous wealth of mobility opportunities as the automotive sector undergoes this radical transformation and focuses on technical innovation to meet future requirements. For example, this is evidenced by a growth in requests for us to support highly autonomous driving (HAD) approvals, prototyping, simulations, and cybersecurity.

Another new element that is gaining traction in new mobility is the development of hydrogen drives as they have a key role to play in achieving climate goals. They span not only the fuel cell technology used in FCEVs, but also the injection of hydrogen into the intake manifold of diesel vehicles for the purpose of reducing carbon emissions.

TIC organisations, including TÜV SÜD, are joining forces to establish a common approach to support this mobility transition, and ensure the implementation of statutory and societal goals in environmental, transport and safety policy. This includes integrated and independent testing of modern vehicles, digitalisation and connectivity, and the general theme of protecting people and the environment. TICs are also working together on aspects such as legal framework conditions – an area that covers discrimination-free access to vehicle data, software security and ways of shaping the roadworthiness tests of tomorrow.

Despite the current challenges, the mobility sector is developing by leaps and bounds, with changing market conditions and new technologies setting the rapid pace for continued innovation. We are already seeing the introduction of so many innovative technologies, and this ‘new mobility’ will enable the automotive industry to achieve genuine sustainability by minimising emissions while significantly enhancing safety. 

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