The Road to Net Zero: How Will the Automotive Industry Get There?

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Everyone is talking about the drive to net zero carbon emissions at the moment – whether they’re heads of state at the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow or Cubic Telecom’s very own CEO, Barry Napier.

At Reuters Automotive 2021, Barry joined leaders from Fisker, Polestar and Audi to discuss the industry’s plans to achieve net zero emissions and sustainable supply chains. As the automotive industry undergoes its most important transition ever, the variety of viewpoints reflected the diverse strands of thinking across the sector as a whole. Here’s what happened.

Data is critical to sustainability

All companies are facing pressure to move towards net zero emissions and more sustainable supply chains. However, with no set definition of exactly what net zero means, some companies have wildly different definitions and targets than others.

For example, BMW is committed to procuring 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. VW – the first automaker to commit to the Paris climate agreement in 2018 – is targeting a 40% per-vehicle reduction in CO2 by 2030, en route to complete carbon neutrality by 2050. Volvo, meanwhile, aims to be carbon neutral across all of its manufacturing operations by 2025. Why such disparity?

It’s all to do with data and verification. Every sustainability commitment and statistic has to be backed up by data. In the absence of any global definition, many companies are working with Science Based Targets to reduce emissions in line with climate science. Without accurate data collection and analysis, there is no way for companies to understand how much carbon they emit and, consequently, no way for them to accurately measure the effects of their actions. But, as Barry points out, the lack of an agreed global standard isn’t a deterrent for Cubic Telecom, which is setting its own standards for carbon neutral, sustainable connectivity. As a company that already excels at enabling makers to measure and analyse all data produced by their vehicles – whether it’s cars on the road or tractors and smart agriculture systems, – Cubic Telecom is uniquely placed to facilitate both its own and other makers’ commitments to net zero. Cubic is committed to working exclusively with suppliers –both in our ecosystem and broader supply chain – whose carbon neutral goals are in line with industry standards.

Consumer demand versus legislative mandates

One point of contention among the panel was whether consumer demand or legislation will force companies to achieve net zero emissions. Legislation will drive change, but EV ownership is growing rapidly, demonstrating significant consumer demand. However, as the panellists noted, consumer priorities and perceptions vary across geographies. For example, while Norway is cited as an example of widespread EV ownership, it’s important to remember that there are significant EV subsidies resulting from legislation there. Meanwhile, in the US, EV ownership remains low, even in California, the home of Tesla.  According to one panellist, American drivers struggle to name an EV when asked.

How can global manufacturers deal with all the different mindsets? Some speculated that a tipping point will come when not driving an EV will lead to significant social stigma – which will ultimately drive adoption faster than consumer interest or government legislation. As Barry put it, “The consumer mindset is changing faster than many of us realise. The technology for electric vehicles and, indeed, automation, is there – it’s the regulation and legislation we need now.”

The devil’s in the data

Automotive supply chains are complex – and global. All of the panellists highlighted the importance of transparency and audit trails in achieving climate goals. From Cubic Telecom’s perspective, the road to net zero will be a dead end unless companies can track and monitor their operations, giving them the insights and data they need to support the innovation and transparency everyone recognizes the need for. “Our sustainability statement is that everyone in Cubic Telecom’s supply chain – from module manufacturer to radio access partner and mobile operator – is following these principles,” said Barry. “If they’re not doing this, they shouldn’t be there. As a connected software technology company, we’re part of the auto supply chain, and we’re committed to leading the way on sustainability.”

Cubic’s INSIGHTS and PLXOR solutions provide the connected intelligence and data-driven insights automakers need to transform in line with climate goals. If there’s one area on which all the panellists were agreed, it was on the importance of data in achieving sustainability goals. Without tracking and monitoring of operations, the road to net zero will be a rocky one. Without insights and transparency, companies will be shooting in the dark. For more detail on how Cubic and other industry leaders are transforming to meet climate obligations, check out the full discussion on the Drive to Net Zero now.

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