Green fuels – has the tide already turned?

By Professor Jonatan Pinkse

The opportunity to advance the development and prevalence of alternatively-fuelled vehicles (AFVs) has never been greater than it is now. Though technologies such as electrically-powered vehicles are not necessarily new, this is the first time that AFVs have received such a great deal of support across the board.

In addition to positive incentives such as subsidies, a significant window of opportunity has opened due to the Government’s increasing focus on policies designed to gradually phase out vehicles with an internal combustion engine.

The future of diesel cars in particular is looking increasingly uncertain, with its toxicity put into sharp focus by the recent Volkswagen scandal, where the company cheated emissions tests and covered up dangerously high levels of pollution. Moves by the Government, such as its intention to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, have also dampened public opinion of the fuel.

It is not just the UK that is beginning to take action, either. France is mirroring the UK’s own target, with a ban to take effect from 2040 – except in Paris, which has brought its target forward to 2030. Similarly, Copenhagen plans to ban all diesel cars as early as 2019.

The bad press for traditional fuels underlines the tremendous opportunity for AFVs to rise in popularity, and their potential to overhaul existing car fleets.

There are drawbacks, such as lingering technological barriers, the limited range of electric vehicles or the current lack of charging infrastructure, for example.

However, the advantages even now far outweigh the disadvantages. My own research has demonstrated that providers of AFVs can begin to overcome many of the initial barriers to adoption by innovating their business models, and particularly their value proposition. Rather than just offering vehicles as a product, the introduction of AFVs allows firms to provide new solutions for mobility in a much broader sense, championing mobility as a service.

Recognising the potential of AFVs as a key component of business strategy, rather than just a method of greening fleets, will be crucial for businesses as we move towards the scrapping of internal combustion engines. With the emergence of innovations such as vehicle-to-everything (V2X) and other connecting technologies, AFVs should not be seen merely as a means of reducing pollution and mitigating climate change – important as this may be. In reality, they are helping in the journey towards making all vehicles smarter and safer.

The key here is that in doing so, businesses will be able to change consumer perceptions of such technol¬ogies, demonstrating their value as a green service and simultaneously overcoming the problems inherent with new, disruptive technologies.

This is an exciting moment for AFVs. We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the innovation and benefits they are set to bring to businesses and consumers alike in the future.

Professor Jonatan Pinkse’s analysis of the rise of alternatively-fuelled vehicles is featured in the Hitachi Capital UK Future of Fuels report, found here.

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