Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Automotive industry epitomises 21st Century challenges, says Verheugen

Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen opened the annual European Council for Automotive R&D (EUCAR) conference on 22 November, saying that the automotive industry has 'little choice but to strive for technological leadership'.

In a speech aimed as much at policy makers a...
Automotive industry epitomises 21st Century challenges, says Verheugen
Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen opened the annual European Council for Automotive R&D (EUCAR) conference on 22 November, saying that the automotive industry has 'little choice but to strive for technological leadership'.

In a speech aimed as much at policy makers as at the automotive sector, Mr Verheugen reminded his audience of the challenges facing the sector, and emphasised the importance of innovation as a means to remain competitive in the face of these challenges.

'The automotive industry is the key industry for Europe,' said Mr Verheugen, pointing out that six EUCAR members were among the top 20 European investors in research and development (R&D), along with two automotive suppliers.

'The new superpowers [emerging economies in Asia] will compete on everything. There are those in Europe who still believe that the old division of labour is still in place. This is a dangerous understanding,' said Mr Verheugen.

But in addition to competition from the Far East with its inexpensive and plentiful human resources, the automotive sector must also deal with the limited availability of fossil fuels and other raw materials, pressure to make vehicles more environmentally friendly, and concerns about safety. 'The automotive industry epitomises the challenges that Europe will face in the 21st Century,' said Mr Verheugen.

Mr Verheugen said that climate change is likely to remain a Commission priority for several years to come, but told automotive stakeholders that this should not be seen as a threat.

While the industry certainly has its work cut out if it is to remain competitive in a global economy, the onus is not only on the private sector. 'Policy makers must create a framework to allow you to stay in Europe and invest in Europe,' said Mr Verheugen.

The Commissioner also said that innovation can sometimes suffer from political problems. 'People must be prepared to accept change. That's exactly what they don't do. We must not avoid change but manage it,' he said.

Mr Verheugen advocated collaboration in the shape of clusters as a way of bringing together all players who can then learn from one another and increase their chances of gaining access to finance.

Collaboration was a point picked up by Thomas Weber, EUCAR Chairman for 2006 and member of DaimlerChrysler's Board of Management. Speaking after the Commissioner, Dr Weber said: 'we need the oil industry, we need policy makers, we need customers'.

He outlined a number of priority areas for the future, including alternative fuels, hybrid systems, active safety and passive safety. 'We are in the precompetitive phase, we are focused on the right things,' he said.

Source: CORDIS News attendance at a EUCAR reception
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