Mobility 2021: switching from horse to car
January rhymes with cars in Brussels. More than half a million visitors a year flock to the end-station of Tram 7 in Heysel, where the Brussels Motor Show is held. More than a trade fair, it is a real institution that FEBIAC has been organising since 1902. It is therefore with a historic and notable absence that the year 2021 begins. And for good reason, the previous year marks the first year in which the number of cars in Belgium has fallen since the Second World War, bringing the national fleet from 5,889,210 to 5,888,589 private vehicles.
This is a blow for mobility, which is strongly represented by the automobile industry. In 2018, transport was the third largest item of expenditure for Belgian households, accounting for 11.4% of their spending. Febiac does not admit defeat, however, and is multiplying initiatives to give visibility and encourage the sector. Ministers Georges Gilkinet (Minister of Mobility in the Federal Government), Philippe Henry (Minister for Climate, Energy and Mobility in the Walloon Government), Lydia Peeters (Flemish Minister of Mobility & Public Works) and Elke Van den Brandt (Minister for Mobility, Public Works and Road Safety at Brussels-Capital Region) are thus invited to share their vision and give their encouragement. At the same time, a micro-trotting is organised in Wavre. The paralleling of these excerpts is particularly edifying.
The political sphere is unanimous, and this is to be welcomed; the fight against global warming is THE priority. The point is also relevant, as transport (freight and private individuals) is the leading sector for greenhouse gas emissions in Belgium (22,3%). The proposed solutions are based on innovation and technology that manufacturers are invited to implement. The electric car is clearly cited as « cleaner », « less polluting », supported by a network of charging stations, the deployment of which is promised in record time.
Exchanges with Belgians doing their shopping do not mention climate issues. The concern is extremely practical; the car remains the best means of getting around, in all conditions, everywhere, with the best performance. And no matter how it is powered; the attitude remains: « my car, my freedom ».
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses ». Yet Henry Ford played a decisive role in the transition from horse to car by making the car accessible to the greatest number of people. He did not ask people what they wanted. He just knew it. Henri Ford is the bearer of a strong vision, to which the whole world has subscribed and still subscribes: « my car, my freedom ».
Today the world of mobility is undergoing a change similar to that of the previous century. This change is not so much technological as cultural; it is not only the replacement of the combustion engine by the battery, the benefits of which on the climate remain to be discussed. It is mainly to be found in the shift from ownership to usage, which is just beginning in some emerging countries. This revolution implies a change in all the players in the value chain of the mobility sector. Due to a lack of vision, it is so far only partially exploited.
Snippets are mentioned here and there; « Building a MaaS offer that links the different modes of transport »; « rethinking the sharing of public space », « moving from possession to use », “facilitate dialogue between stakeholders”. The future of mobility depends on a clear, constructed, coordinated and communicated vision. This vision cannot be based on ideology; to be achieved, it must answer the needs of users and propose a better offer than « my car, my freedom ».
If such a change requires time, it is imperative to initiate it in the best conditions, otherwise GAFAM will take care of it.
Louis Antoine Calvy