Torben Eckardt
Former Managing Director
Volvo Car México

Pushing for an Electrified Future in Mexico

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 10:50

Traffic accidents, respiratory diseases and congested roads are the result of the use and abuse of cars. But, electrified, self-driving cars can help counter these issues as soon as automakers start moving away from yesterday’s vehicles and toward tomorrow’s cars, says Torben Eckardt, Former Managing Director of Volvo Car México.
“Every week, 400 people die on the streets in Mexico because of traffic accidents,” says Eckardt. “That amounts to over 20,000 people a year or a Boeing 747 filled with people crashing on a weekly basis. These victims are important and valuable people who would have contributed to Mexico’s future had they not died.”
As an OEM with a history of focusing on passenger safety and quality of life, Volvo has introduced game-changing safety and emissions-reductions devices such as the three-point seatbelt, the Lambda Sonde catalytic converter and the first curtain airbags. The company takes advantage of its relatively small size and an innovative management to swiftly make ideas a market reality and put strategies that counter public wellbeing threats, says Eckardt. Now, it is working to harness vehicle electrification and automation to continue reducing deaths in traffic accidents and to improve urban life through zero-emission vehicles.
“Our vision is that by 2020, no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car,” Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO of Volvo Cars, said in a statement issued in 2015. The company has for many years developed active and passive safety technology to protect passengers but is now taking a step forward to make self-driving technology the basis to achieve its 2020 goal. “Safe vehicles will take care of people by stopping, driving and staying on the road on their own,” says Eckardt. “This will both prevent accidents and reduce commuting times.” He points out that in some Mexican cities people drive up to 50 hours per month, or about 25 days a year. Instead of just sitting behind the steering wheel, Volvo’s goal is to enable people to prepare for meetings, socialize, sleep or watch movies as they commute in their cars. “We will effectively give people a month of their lives back every year,” he says.
Volvo, however, looks to give people back more than just time, according to Eckardt. Air contamination, common to large and densely populated urban areas, takes a toll on their inhabitants’ health. “People get sick and die from pollution because of car fumes, particularly in cities with a high number of vehicles with no catalytic converters or no availability of light diesel,” he says.
Along with self-driving technology, Volvo Car is betting on electrification to address this issue. In August 2017 at a press meeting, Samuelsson, stated that by 2019, the company’s entire new car lineup would be electrified. “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car,” he said. Volvo already offers both hybrids and EVs as options to combustion engines but it will become the first OEM after Tesla to deal only in hybrid and electric units, according to Eckardt. Raymundo Garza, the new Managing Director of the company in Mexico will now continue with this program.
As a global strategy, electrification is gradually advancing in markets like Europe and California. Mexico, however, poses several challenges for the implementation of electrified and autonomous cars. These include the lack of necessary charging infrastructure, as well as high prices of EVs and electrical power. Eckardt says the main issue of selling electric vehicles is reaching a lower price-per-kilometer than that of a fuel-powered car. After that, another incentive for buyers would be to achieve residual values similar to traditional models. “We need to make sure it pays off for cars to run on kilowatts,” says Eckardt. “This entails incentives, infrastructure development and an electrical power strategy that supplies enough power at an affordable price.”
In some Mexican states, power becomes increasingly expensive as more kilowatts are consumed. “That system is aimed at punishing the use of electricity, even though electricity is a better alternative to other energy sources that produce CO2,” says Eckardt. “This should work the other way around as it does in Sweden where power prices decrease as more kilowatts are consumed and there is a rebate on consumption.”