Sustainability in the wake of COP26 and beyond

In our recent webinar Nick Salkeld, COO of MHC Mobility Europe, Kristof De Backer, Managing Director of MHC Mobility Belgium, Tomasz Piekarski, Chief Commercial Officer of MHC Mobility Poland and Jonny Berry, Head of Decarbonisation at Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions spoke about sustainability challenges and opportunities in their respective markets.

COP26 has highlighted an increasing demand for sustainable mobility solutions to meet new environmental targets. Many governments have pledged their support for a transition to zero emission vehicles, with the UK Government promising that by 2035, all new car and vans will be zero emissions. But how are they and other Governments going to make that a reality?

For businesses working in the mobility space, the next few years will be fundamental in the development of new products and the technology that makes those products a reality for customers.

Electrification across Europe

There is a need for zero emission vehicles, and consumer demand is driving this. Tomasz Piekarski believes consumer preferences are changing and people are seeking environmentally conscious solutions. Five years ago, roughly 30 per cent of new cars bought in Poland had diesel engines, and now this number is at just 12 per cent. “People are actively seeking harmony between nature and energy”, Tomasz says.

People are actively seeking harmony between nature and energy.

Tomasz Piekarski

At the same time, there has been a growth in corporate car sharing and e-bikes, scooters, and mopeds for employees. Even if consumers can’t or choose not to buy electric cars outright, they are more aware of the options available and might be on the path towards making more environmentally conscious transport decisions in the future.

Jonny Berry noted that the move away from fossil fuels is similar in the UK; one in five vehicles sold in November 2021 were 100 per cent electric – nearly double that of the diesel vehicles. There were also more electric vehicles registered in the UK in the last year than in the previous decade.  

Overcoming obstacles

Despite the increase in EVs, there are some obstacles that need to be tackled to assist customers in their transition to electric. And whilst Governments across Europe are making net zero pledges, in many cases, the infrastructure doesn’t yet exist to make this a reality. Tomasz noted that in Poland, “very weak power grids cannot transfer the high capacity that’s needed”.

A key challenge in the transport sector is that many countries do not yet have enough charging points for people to switch to electric; in Belgium, Kristof noted that there are nowhere near enough charging points, which is why the Government has planned to introduce 30,000 new charging points by 2026. In countries like Poland many people live in large flat blocks, particularly in cities, making access to charging points  a real challenge. Innovative and more accessible charging points are a must in these environments if the net zero commitments are to become a reality.

It is apparent that many countries are struggling with the same obstacles, yet these are manifesting in different ways. Jonny’s seen that community charging is an issue in the UK, but this is due to the lack of interoperability – where computer systems work together – due to “80 different providers and 80 different charge point operators” not cooperating.

Meeting customers where they are

The next step to a more sustainable future involves customer-focused problem solving. It’s vital that organisations within the mobility space work with customers to make it as easy as possible to make sustainable decisions. “Reducing our customers’ carbon emissions is our number one strategy,” says Jonny Berry.

In the long term, Kristof De Backer believes that “the future is ACES; autonomous, connected, electrified and shared”. This means offering customers a full end-to-end solution and support for the charging solutions – for the workplace and depot environment. Tomasz Piekarskistates that currently half of the clients across the CEE regions already ask for these services.

The future is ACES; autonomous, connected, electrified and shared.

Kristof De Backer

Technology development will further assist the uptake of electric vehicles, with advancements already underway. In Belgium, a mobility app is helping customers streamline their mobility and reporting. This makes it easier for employees to use public transport and employers to receive one invoice for all employee movements, with access to a reporting system of all employee mobility. Kristof De Backer predicts even further developments in the technology mobility space, in the hope that there will be an app connecting all journeys – “in my eyes it will be a mixed mobility solution in the future, instead of individual car transportations”.

Businesses as leaders

Ultimately, our panel agreed, businesses are a key driver in reaching net zero, because corporate fleets cover more miles than private vehicles do. Jonny Berry believes that if we “scale fleet and business emissions first, we’ll scale emissions faster”, with the average fleet car in the UK covering more than double the yearly mileage of a private car. Looking ahead to the 2050 net zero target, electrifying corporate fleets will be a driving force in making this a reality.