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Cars: new solutions to the ongoing pollution problem

Car-sharing: a critical step in reducing transport emissions 

Christophe Midler, Emeritus Professor of Innovation Management at École Polytechnique (CNRS/IP Paris) and Thomas Matagne, CEO and Founder of Ecov
On March 1st, 2023 |
4 min reading time
Christophe Midler
Christophe Midler
Emeritus Professor of Innovation Management at École Polytechnique (CNRS/IP Paris)
Thomas Matagne
Thomas Matagne
CEO and Founder of Ecov
Key takeaways
  • Road transport is responsible for 30% of CO2 emissions in France, 16% of which are specifically from private cars.
  • To reduce these emissions, there are several solutions: switching to electric vehicles and using public transport.
  • In June 2022, the European Parliament voted to ban the sale of new combustion engine vehicles by 2035.
  • Carpooling services are being set up to provide a solution for those who do not have access to public transport.
  • The ecological transition can only happen if we ensure the coordination of parties that are not used to working together.

Road trans­port, and in par­tic­u­lar the car mar­ket, is at the heart of the ener­gy tran­si­tion. And the focus is on pri­vate cars. Indeed, 30% of CO2 emis­sions in France are linked to trans­port, 16% of which are specif­i­cal­ly linked to pri­vate cars. To reduce these emis­sions, there are sev­er­al avenues to be explored, includ­ing tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments – in par­tic­u­lar the switch from ther­mal vehi­cles to elec­tric ones – and a shift towards col­lec­tive transport.

Evolution of mobility 

The tech­no­log­i­cal path, with which we are all becom­ing increas­ing­ly famil­iar, is that of switch­ing the exist­ing fleet of com­bus­tion engine vehi­cles to elec­tric – or in the more dis­tant future, per­haps even to hydro­gen pow­ered trans­port. “This is already a major break­through, because elec­tric vehi­cles will not only ben­e­fit their dri­vers, but also to those who live along­side them and are affect­ed by their use,” explains Christophe Midler, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Inno­va­tion Man­age­ment at École Poly­tech­nique (CNRS/IP Paris). “This evo­lu­tion broad­ens the notion of cus­tomer beyond the dri­ver and the pas­sen­ger to include the city, the coun­try, the communities.” 

In any case, on 8th June 2022, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment vot­ed in favour of ban­ning the sale of new com­bus­tion engine vehi­cles by 2035. So, this tech­no­log­i­cal approach can be con­sid­ered to be well underway.

The sec­ond way to reduce CO2 emis­sions is to con­vince dri­vers to stop using their cars alone. This solu­tion takes the form of a modal shift from indi­vid­ual to col­lec­tive trans­port. This cer­tain­ly involves improv­ing pub­lic trans­port, but also reduc­ing car use.

“On aver­age, in Europe, there are 1.1 peo­ple per vehi­cle,” states Christophe Midler. “To change this, we need a small rev­o­lu­tion, which con­sists of devel­op­ing new col­lec­tive mobil­i­ty ser­vices based on pri­vate cars. This means coor­di­nat­ing play­ers who are not used to work­ing togeth­er: dri­vers who own their own cars, local author­i­ties, infra­struc­ture, and appli­ca­tion managers.”

Car-shar­ing there­fore requires the devel­op­ment of car-pool­ing, but also of autonomous, dri­ver­less vehi­cles, and it reveals a much more seri­ous trend, per­haps even herald­ing the end of a mod­el based on the indi­vid­ual car. “If we set up car­pool­ing, we will increase to 1.8,” says the pro­fes­sor. “Espe­cial­ly on dai­ly trips between home and work.”

How­ev­er, this eco­nom­ic mod­el is not straight­for­ward because, as Christophe Midler points out, “man­u­fac­tur­ers know that they will have to sup­port their cus­tomers in learn­ing about this new type of trans­port. When a new car is launched on the mar­ket, the cus­tomer is quick to see what is bet­ter about it than pre­vi­ous ones. But with this sort of tech­no­log­i­cal break­through, it is nec­es­sary to exper­i­ment, to help pas­sen­gers become accus­tomed to the idea of a vehi­cle with­out a driver.”

Car-sharing and the public 

Thomas Matagne, a young French entre­pre­neur and the founder and pres­i­dent of Ecov, is try­ing to bring his car-shar­ing ser­vice to sev­er­al regions through­out France. His objec­tive is to pro­vide a solu­tion to the inhab­i­tants of peri-urban and rur­al areas that do not have access to pub­lic trans­port, in order to make every­day mobil­i­ty possible.

To do this, he decid­ed to turn the car into a means of col­lec­tive trans­port, and to deploy, in con­junc­tion with local author­i­ties, car­pool­ing lines that are like bus lines. After iden­ti­fy­ing the flow of cars in a giv­en area, sta­tions are set up, marked by LED pan­els on which the des­ti­na­tions of pas­sen­gers request­ing car­pool­ing are displayed.

Nei­ther the dri­ver nor the pas­sen­ger has booked the car­pool in advance, and this is what makes the sys­tem so suc­cess­ful. The aver­age wait­ing time on the net­works already in oper­a­tion is 4 min­utes, and Ecov guar­an­tees a taxi or VTC if the pas­sen­ger does not find a dri­ver with­in 15 min­utes. “Pas­sen­gers can be cer­tain that they will be able to leave and return, and this is the key to cre­at­ing trust in the ser­vice,” stress­es Thomas Matagne.

Depend­ing on the local author­i­ty, the ser­vice may be free or charged. Just like RATP, Trans­dev and Keo­lis oper­ate bus, metro, and tram lines, Ecov has already opened some 60 car­pool­ing lines for local authorities.

What remains to be done is to scale up the ser­vice: “Our next step is to work with local res­i­dents, poten­tial users, to co-con­struct this shared pub­lic ser­vice,” he com­ments. We are also think­ing of devel­op­ing abroad, because we are work­ing on a tech­no­log­i­cal and organ­i­sa­tion­al break­through that no oth­er play­er in Europe knows how to organ­ise at the moment. 

But it is not just soft­ware that Ecov has devel­oped: “Our employ­ees include analy­sis engi­neers, of course, but also road engi­neers, trans­port engi­neers and mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ists, who can sup­port changes in behav­iour, but also lead com­mu­ni­ties and assist users. We call each user who makes a first jour­ney in real time to let them know that they are not alone, that we are mon­i­tor­ing what is happening.”

A multi-faceted market

These changes in behav­iour would obvi­ous­ly have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on man­u­fac­tur­ers, who find them­selves in the posi­tion of pro­vid­ing vehi­cles to mobil­i­ty ser­vices. And these ser­vices are increas­ing­ly dri­ven by smart­phone oper­a­tors such as Orange or Bouygues Tele­com… “This is why almost all car man­u­fac­tur­ers, includ­ing Renault, Daim­ler and PSA, have invest­ed in the field of rental mobil­i­ty ser­vices,” explains Christophe Midler. “They all have oper­a­tions either direct­ly or by hold­ing shares in the mobil­i­ty ser­vice provider, in order to con­trol this part of their val­ue chain, which pre­vi­ous­ly belonged to them.”

Ener­gy suf­fi­cien­cy is a col­lec­tive effort that allows indi­vid­u­als to con­sume less while liv­ing well.

As a result, car man­u­fac­tur­ers must deal with sev­er­al strate­gic and oper­a­tional areas that are sit­u­at­ed in dif­fer­ent sec­tors. We are talk­ing here about the elec­tric vehi­cle, the autonomous vehi­cle around 2035, and ther­mal vehi­cles which still make up the bulk of their sales. It is not easy for them to pre­pare for the future by devel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies that are in direct com­pe­ti­tion with the com­bus­tion vehicle!

“At the heart of these changes, we must remem­ber that these are inno­va­tions which soci­ety is ask­ing for,” empha­sis­es Christophe Midler. “In the case of the elec­tric vehi­cle, for exam­ple, it was nei­ther the man­u­fac­tur­ers nor the cus­tomers who said, ‘I want an elec­tric car’, but civ­il soci­ety which demand­ed a reduc­tion in CO2 emissions.” 

Final­ly, as Thomas Matagne points out, sobri­ety can­not be a mat­ter of indi­vid­ual choice alone. “Ener­gy suf­fi­cien­cy is a col­lec­tive effort that allows indi­vid­u­als to con­sume less while liv­ing well.” If peo­ple are ready for an eco­log­i­cal tran­si­tion, soci­ety still needs to give them the means, in par­tic­u­lar, to trav­el differently…

Marina Julienne 

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