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Exclusive interview with Frédéric Vergels, Organiser, EEVC

08 September 2011

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After over 12 years as Secretary General of AVERE, the European Association of Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell, Electric Vehicles and the organisation of several conferences, including EVS and EET, gathering up to 1500 participants, Frederic Vergels launches a new cycle of conferences on the issue starting with the European Electric Vehicle Congress on 26-28 October in Brussels You have been for over 12 years Secretary General of AVERE, the European Association of Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell, Electric Vehicles. What would you consider the mile stones over this period in terms of electric vehicles development?

Frédéric Vergels: When I joined the Association, in 1997, there was a real enthusiasm for electric vehicles. The California Clean Air Act act had just been issued and was requiring the car manufacturers to have at least 10% of their annual production to be alternative fuelled propelled for 2000. At that time GM had launched the EV1 and PSA was inaugurating a new assembly line dedicated to the 106 electric. Everybody was very optimistic for the future.

Unfortunately, under the pressure of the petroleum lobby the Bush administration, that came on the power in 2000, has rapidly reshaped the act and its objectives became vague and incoherent. All the OEM’s have then reduced their efforts for the development of electric cars.  The story of “who killed the electric car” took place in the US and in Europe there was no more real will to really put the EVs on the market.

During the 5 to 7 following years all the efforts were dedicated to the development of fuel cell vehicles. However, rapidly, concerns have arisen regarding the costs of the technology and on the real impact on the environment. Life Cycles Analysis have showed that, for the fuel cell technology being, pure electric were much less polluting on a global level. In parallel, under the pressure of the “Prius” phenomena, a lot of research was made around hybrid vehicles too.

Since 2007, mainly because of the public opinion which became more and more concerned by the climate change issue, and the rise of the petroleum price, as well as the problem of energy dependency, authorities started again to promote the development of alternative fuelled vehicles. Research and Developments efforts were thus again focused on the production and this leads to the series of new Electric Vehicles that are now entering the market. What major trends in electric mobility do you see today? Are there also negative developments observable?

Frédéric: I feel we should make the distinction between different types of mobility. The good and the persons on the one side, the short, the medium and the long distances on the other.
In a short-term, I feel that urban mobility will become more and more electric. Both for persons, for which we see more and more small dedicated vehicles entering the market, and goods, for which authorities are now realizing the freight platform logistics completed with electric delivery vans, electric vehicles are a solution combining mobility, silence, protection of the environment and cultural heritage.

For longer distance, hybrid vehicles will become more and more present while for long distance, especially for goods transport, I see no alternative that the traditional gasoil.
In the mid-term, the electrification of transport in city center will certainly grow up. New designed city-cars and delivery vans will certainly enter the market as a follow up of today’s experience.  For mid-size distances hybrids will continue to have to play a crucial role while I think that, for longer one, the train, which network is expending every days, will become a solution to which a lot of carriers will turn.

Last, in the long term, the fuel cell vehicles will have a role to play for mid and long distances.  But there is still a lot of technological and economic challenges before that.
To me, two issues are critical to ensure the above scenario. Both the infrastructure and the after sale service have to be implemented in parallel. From your experience, where do you see the key differences between the EV market in China, Japan, Europe and North America?

Frédéric: The major difference is both cultural and geographical.

The Chinese market is growing very fast. Every day new actors are entering the sector. The products are focused on urban vehicles due to the fact that most of the trips are inner-city. For the moment, the demand is such that the Chinese manufacturers only respond to their domestic market.  However, they so gain in expertise and will, soon or later, attack the other markets. Let’s hope that, at that time, we will be ready to compete!

The European and Japanese markets and approach are more similar.  Pure electric vehicles will cohabit with hybrids since the needs for are both for short or mid distances.
Last, the North America market is different because of the fact that the daily trips are much more longer.  There I see hybrids taking the leads while, obviously light electric vehicles will continue to expand in places like resorts. In October 2011, you are organizing the European Electric Vehicle Congress. What will make this congress stand out from the many EV events around the world?

Frédéric: When attending congresses on electric vehicles I am always surprised that it is generally only dedicated to only one aspect of the whole transport problematic. 

To my point of view, the issue is global and it is very important to develop an arena where the needs and constraints from the ones are well understood by the others.  This is the only way to make sure that the most appropriate products or technologies for Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles are selected for market introduction.

EEVC aims therefore at providing such an arena in gathering the different actors, from industry, research institutes, NGO’s and public authorities. The final goal is to develop a roadmap for sustainable mobility technology.

Too often congresses and conferences deliver no real output.  Here, at the closing session, we intend to present a summary of the discussions with recommendations for a faster introduction of the electric vehicles.  It will be intended to the European Authorities but also to the Regions.  I think these latter are too often forgotten in the discussions and that this is a mistake as they have the right seize to be addressed.  Close enough to the cities, which are the one to really develop incentives and policies for market introduction, and large enough to be a valid interlocutor at national or supra-national level.

Regions are also the right interlocutor as they represent entities which are homogenous both in cultural and geographic term.

As you will have seen from the program, lessons learned, best practices, infrastructure, barriers & market requirements will be hot topics. All of them are issues to be analyzed for a fast market introduction of the technology. We have read on your website that you have received 130 presentations. How do you explain such interest in EEVC?

Frédéric: I am organizing conferences in this field for a long time and I think I always succeeded to give a “special touch” that was always appreciated by the delegate. To me, as I said earlier, one of the major differences is that we have the entire value chain represented.

The other thing about this event is that we hold it in Brussels. It is extremely important that European Authorities and industry collaborate over medium and long term in bringing transportation into this new electric drive era.

The European dimension is really represented at EEVC. For example, we will have Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the EU Commission and European Commissioner in charge of Transport at the closing session. Other high level speakers from the Commission will be present but also representatives of the Committee of the Regions and from the EU Parliement will also speak at the opening session. 

This latter will be very rich as top decision makers from all the major related European Associations will also share their vision there.  In particular, I would like to mention ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, EUROBAT, European Storage Battery Manufacturers Association, EURELECTRIC, the Association of the Electricity Industry in Europe and EARPA, the European Automotive Research Partners Association.

With such a program, we can be confident to reach between 250 and 300 delegates. Thank you very much for your answers Mr. Vergels.


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