At the 43rd International Vienna Motor Symposium, impressive innovations paving the way towards not only CO2-neutral but also fully automated mobility were presented in 72 lectures. The symposium, held at the Vienna Hofburg conference centre, was attended by more than 900 participants from 26 countries. In addition, the conference was streamed online, enabling a large number of participants mainly from Asia to attend virtually. In his speech, Professor Bernhard Geringer, President the Austrian Society of Automotive Engineers that organises the symposium, highlighted the "tremendous process of change" facing the industry. At the same time, many speakers considered this process a challenge that presented a unique “once-in-a-century opportunity” for their company.
In this spirit, Markus Schäfer, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG, described the Vision EQXX "as a symbol of transformation" in his lecture at the Motor Symposium. This innovative electric vehicle is able to cover more than 1,000 km on public roads with one single battery charge. With this range and an energy consumption of less than 9 kilowatt hours per 100 kilometres, it is the most efficient Mercedes ever. Although it is, however, not yet clear whether the car will actually be produced in its current form, Schäfer stressed that the technology used in the EQXX will definitely be implemented. Overall, Daimler plans to only sell zero-emission passenger cars by 2030 with production also becoming climate-neutral.
"The road towards e-mobility will be a relatively long one", stated Luca de Meo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Renault Group, a pioneer of e-mobility. In the coming years, the Group plans to invest another 23 billion euros in electromobility, while also implementing further improvements to the internal combustion engine (ICE) and continuing to produce a diesel engine beyond 2030. Renault expects that around 90 per cent of vehicles worldwide will continue to be powered by an ICE in 2030. According to De Meo, this is attributable to three important facts: customer benefit, eco-footprint and affordability.
The Renault Group’s CEO explained that today a large battery (90 kWh) would be required for an e-family car to cover 85 per cent of current customer needs. Furthermore, due to the prevalent electricity mix in many regions, including in Germany, the eco-footprint of an e-vehicle is currently higher than that of an economical hybrid vehicle. De Meo went on to stress that last but not least, e-vehicles need to be affordable to be bought. As a result of rising commodity prices, however, they are becoming even more expensive. For this reason, consumers will tend to keep their current cars for a longer period. Therefore, he stressed, it was urgently necessary to also find solutions for existing vehicles and fleets to facilitate the transition to CO2-neutrality. De Meo thus called for enhanced cooperation among automotive industry, energy sector, legislators and research institutions. According to the CEO, alternative fuels could make an important contribution to CO2 reduction. In this context, he pointed out that it would be necessary for legislators to move away from only considering CO2 emissions from tank to wheel but instead consider the CO2 footprint over a vehicle’s entire lifespan ("from cradle to grave"), as is done by Renault. De Meo concluded by stating that with a view to managing the costs of transformation, Renault intends to significantly reduce its wide range and variety of models and engines.
The same line was taken by Thomas Ulbrich, Member of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Brand, who also announced a significant reduction in model variants at the Motor Symposium, adding that VW intends to replace all electric platforms across the group with the mechatronic architecture SSP (Scalable Systems Platform). The first model on this platform is the Trinity, which is to bring autonomous driving (Level 4) to the volume segment for the first time in 2026. The car will have a range of 700 kilometres and the top version will take only 3.5 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h. VW's future e-mobility entry-level model will be the ID.Life, presented last year.
Volkswagen estimates that by 2030 around 70 per cent of its new registrations in the EU will have a battery-electric drive, and around 50 per cent each in the USA and China. VW will therefore continue to offer ICE models beyond 2030. In this context, plug-in hybrids – whose electric range is to be extended to around 100 kilometers – are to play a very relevant role.
According to Andreas Gorbach, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler Truck AG, defossilization will take much longer in the commercial vehicle sector. Daimler expects that by 2030 just over half of its new vehicles will be locally CO2-neutral in Europe, with the share being even lower in other regions of the world. According to Gorbach, the battery-electric drive is particularly suitable for trucks on routes of less than 500 kilometres per day. The first in this line was the eActros, launched in 2021. For long-distance and heavy-duty trucks, however, Daimler Truck is developing a fuel cell truck that chemically generates on board the electricity needed for the electric motor from hydrogen and is currently still in a test phase. Daimler sees opportunities for hydrogen-powered combustion engines for trucks used on construction sites.
Gorbach stressed that two factors were essential for decarbonisation to succeed in the extremely cost-sensitive transport sector: a functioning infrastructure and parity in total cost of ownership (TCO) in relation to diesel trucks, which are mainly dependent on diesel prices at the filling station and toll costs. Daimler Truck estimates that this cost parity could be achieved in certain regions as early as 2025 for battery-electric and 2027 for hydrogen-powered trucks. However, Daimler Truck intends to continue offering conventional diesel engines as long as there is customer demand for such vehicles.
As highlighted by Markus Müller, Member of the Board of Management of DEUTZ AG, electrification is advancing even in the off-highway sector. According to the company’s expectations, around 50 per cent of vehicles in this segment will be electrically powered by 2030.
Müller continued by stating that off-highway, the energy transition could only be achieved by providing a mix of different drive technologies. Relevant solutions being considered by DEUTZ include battery-electric drives as well as biofuels, renewable fuels and hydrogen. At the Vienna symposium, Müller announced that DEUTZ will start series production of a hydrogen combustion engine in 2024. This would make it possible for currently diesel-powered trucks and trailers to become carbon neutral.
The drastic changes for the automotive suppliers’ business necessitated by the energy transition were made very clear by Wolf-Henning Scheider, Chairman of the Board of Management and CEO of the ZF Group, who announced that: "ZF will no longer build transmissions from 2040 onwards." Currently, transmissions still make up ten billion euros of the company’s sales. Two years ago, the company already discontinued development of ICE components. In 2030, Scheider expects components for e-mobility to generate higher sales volumes than ZF ever achieved with transmissions. In this respect, the Group is focusing in particular on modular e-drive core components such as power electronics and software.
In ZF’s view, autonomous driving also holds great potential as its control units are currently already being installed in autonomous shuttle systems in Rotterdam and Dubai as well as in autonomous test trucks soon to be launched in the south of the USA.
Transformation also tops the agenda of the Upper Austrian supplier Miba, as highlighted by the Group’s Chief Executive Officer, Peter Mitterbauer. On the one hand, Miba is focusing on further optimising conventional drives while, on the other hand, continuing work started seven years ago on the development and production of important components for electrified drives, including in particular battery systems, e-motors and e-drive systems. Like many of his fellow board members speaking at the symposium, Mitterbauer called on legislators to adopt an approach that is open to various types of technologies.
In his closing statement, Professor Helmut Eichlseder, Vice-President of the Austrian Society of Automotive Engineers (ÖVK), stressed the decisive role played by the supply and provision of regenerative energy for all drive systems on the path towards decarbonizing transport by pointing out that: "With respect to climate relevance, the energy source is at least as important as the energy converter", i.e. the engine.