Already in ten years from now, the European Union (EU), including Latvia, has set itself the ambition of achieving a 37.5% reduction in CO2 emissions from new vehicles. The challenging task is encouraging vehicle manufacturers around the world to invest significant resources in developing innovative products capable of reducing harmful emissions. However, this is something that needs to be considered at national level, and not in 10 or 30 years, but already today. Latvia does not manufacture vehicles but uses them intensively. What are our tasks and potential contribution to reach our common goals?
Electric car - good solution, inadequate infrastructure
As public interest in ecologically intelligent lifestyles grows, alternative mobility solutions are becoming increasingly important. In many parts of the world, the electric car is purposefully strengthening its position. This is relatively slow in Latvia. On the one hand, as with the various campaigns on road safety, the benefits of environmentally friendly transport should be discussed, building a proper public awareness. On the other hand, the sluggish involvement of electric cars in Latvian traffic is not a wonder - if a customer buys a car for 80,000 or 90,000 euros, he expects the appropriate infrastructure to be able to travel comfortably with his excellent car. In Latvia this is currently quite problematic, if not impossible. The charging options for electric cars, especially the quick charging stations, are far too few, and some of them are obsolete and cannot be used for charging the latest models. Thus Latvia continues to participate in the production of European CO2 emissions. According to the European Parliament, almost one third of CO2 emissions come directly from the transport sector, 72% of which comes from road transport.
Global problem: lack of common vision
In pursuit of the problem solving, the EU has set a target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from transport by 60% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. There are many different ways of fighting the vehicle "bad habits" in the world.
For the time being, it is mainly a "carrot" principle. Germany, for example, provides subsidies to enable citizens to switch to newer, greener cars with lower emissions. Israel is promoting the hybrid cars by offering big tax credits to those buyers who buy the hybrid car. Norway is the most advanced in this respect - bonuses are being offered to customers buying electric cars, there is a dense network of recharging points, and there are proportionally a lot a fast recharging points.
But there is also the shadow of the whip - new EU rules require car manufacturers, which exceed the CO2 target, to pay an additional tax, which may be spent in the future on green transport development and training for the automotive industry employees. Private persons are also not to avoid the restrictions - diesel cars are already banned in a number of cities in Germany, and France and other European countries are gradually following this trend. However, improving air quality in some cities does not solve the problem in its entirety. When a German sells its substandard diesel vehicle, it enters the Polish or Baltic market and continues to enrich the carbon dioxide of European air we all breathe. The main problem in Europe today is the lack of a coherent strategy to solve the problems.
Latvia's challenge and contribution - a balance between wishes and possibilities
What could be a carrot and a whip in Latvia to achieve the EU goals in the given time, considering that we have a considerably obsolete but impressive size fleet compared to other European countries? Of course, not only the type of engine, the size, age and wear of the vehicle, but also the driver's driving style increases CO2 emissions - the sporty driving consumes more fuel and also emits more carbon dioxide. It is unlikely to be particularly influenced. One solution would be to purchase new cars with state-of-the-art engines. However, for many Latvian car drivers, the optimal cost of buying a new vehicle is around ten, twelve thousand euros, which can be used to buy only something that is in the market, not what the driver would really like. Additional bank financing and leasing opportunities partially address this problem, but it is not enough. It is even more important to prepare for the era of electric vehicles, which will not pass by Latvia. This is an area where the country has every opportunity to develop and implement a green infrastructure strategy with development potential, showing an example for the rest of Europe.
Another factor to be taken into consideration is the still increasing number of Latvian residents who want to buy their own car. Statistics show that in Latvia every car participating in traffic has an average of 1.6-1.9 people in it. This means mostly one, rarely two or more. Of course we, as car dealers, have no objection, but we need to find a reasonable balance between the interests of car dealers, the wishes of environmental activists, and the convenience of customers.
Car sharing - a practice that is quite common in the world and with CarGuru gradually entering Latvia, would certainly make things easier on the road. This would make it possible to dispose of outdated individual cars in favour of standard-compliant hybrids and electric vehicles. We certainly have a potential here, as the boom in electric kick scooters available for rental is already showing. However, full car sharing functionality would require autonomous driving, by aligning legislation and safety aspects. This could lead to the formation of sharing clubs: for example, I leave for work and while I'm in the office from 9 am to 5 pm, the car itself goes to another user and returns when I need it. But we are all well aware that this is not the nearest future.
Futuristic visions - for the little ones too
Future visions include the hydrogen engine and other alternative technologies currently under development. All Mercedes-Benz models already meet the new CO2 emission standards, so it seems that one could calmly enjoy being in the vanguard and not worry. But also Daimler, like all car manufacturers, is developing new technologies and seeking alternative solutions to protracted problems. The industry needs start-ups who want to be the first to try new technologies in practice and create demand to boost supply.
German giants Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen groups as well Ford Motor Company in established joint venture Ionity, which is developing a network of fast charging stations in Europe, is a great example of how the big car manufacturers can work together to provide a real solution to a particular problem. But you don't have to be a superpower with gigantic companies to participate in shaping the future. The example of Taxify and Skype in Estonia shows that small markets are also able to generate interesting and highly successful ideas. There are also plenty of start-ups and innovators in Latvia who have the power to come up with original solutions for both car sharing and the introduction of environmentally friendly transport in our everyday life, to revolutionize the entire automotive industry and finally bring us into the 21st century without the cloud of CO2 in European sky.