15 March 2019

Achieving a common standard?

Last week’s Shift Automotove Conference highlighted the need for universal standards relating to future mobility including autonomous driving and fighting cyber crime. How do you reconcile a nation’s approach to data protection and 5G roll out? That’s before you touch upon alternative fuels such as hydrogen...

The regulatory framework to construct a battery giga factory is immense. Factors such as availablity of land (and price), meeting envirommental standards; planning and construction laws, the level of state aid and the cost of finance all play their part as do a myriad of other factors.

How do you achieve a level playing field? Looking at the world economies the current mood is towards introspection. The US using tariffs to try and force domestic auto construction; EU member states are becoming more interventionist. China and Russia have very tightly controlled regimes. In the ever increasing digital world there are significant differences between China and the US towards data access. China heavily regulates the internet compared to the US. However, the digital community is now a maturing market and expect more regulation; Britain has recently set a benchmark with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) report on Disinformation and fake news calling for regulation of the social media companies like Google and Facebook.

Autonomous vehicles are subject to significant legal differences between jurisdictions such as the laws of negligence and product liability.

Arguably, each country should develop its own laws with manufacturers adapting to the local market. However, this makes achieving economies of scale and market acceptance more difficult.

The nature of battery design and their composition is likely to be on the regulatory radar. How to address ethical and environmental issues concerning materials such as cobalt? Should regulation be used to encourage the use of synthetic materials? What about recycling so we have a closed loop whereby materials are reused to avoid fresh extraction? The answer will be a balancing act of market forces, regulation and technological advances.

Although the focus in on technological advance one must not forget the human being. I like to think there is mileage in the species and we are not condemned to the scrapheap. Despite the failings of human beings there is much to indicate we are not all bad; evidence includes great design, architecture; scientific and technological advance plus the creative force of music, art and literature. Future legislation will need to cater for the role and interaction between humans and technology. Should the future driving test include computer and software management? I like to think that if humans are allowed to or wish to drive that their skillsets are compatible with technology. Hopefully, as technology advances so will driving standards to retain a meaningful role in driving and have the choice of self or autonoumous driving.

OEM’s and tech companies will drive the technological advances and to a degree market acceptance, but the regulators need to take a strong grip to ensure as much harmonsiation of standards and safety requirements. Two strong organisation to look out for are Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and the The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The UNECE Sustainable Transport Division works to facilitate the international movement of persons and goods by inland transport including the improvement of competitiveness, safety, energy effciency and security in the transport sector.

UNECE’s 177th session of the World Forum for the Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations occurred in Geneva this week. Its top priorities include developing a regulatory framework to support the introduction of emerging technologies for future autonomous vehicles plus enhance environmental protection and climate standards. UNECE’s work will be one of key focus.

Postscript: Finally, it is sad to learn of the sudden death of FIA Director of Formula One, Charlie Whiting who died aged 66. A highly liked and respected person Whiting’s contribution to Formula 1 was immense and as his long standing friend Bernie Ecclestone is quoted as saying: “He kept things on the road and kept the FIA pretty well straight, because he’d look after the rules and everything else.”

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