Three big questions for Gian Luca Pellegrini, Director of Quattroruote
”Sustainability” has become one of the most common words in current parlance, and perhaps also one of the most abused. Everywhere you look, people are talking about how to make mobility “sustainable”, and the car has been one of the focal points of the discussion. But many have doubts, and one of them, on the part of the average driver, is how you realistically recharge an electric car. Another more profound question is: where are we going to get all this electricity from? If we generate it by traditional means, are we not just passing off the energy problem to another sector?
The car is at the center of an extraordinary paradigm shift, which, in prioritizing sustainability, is revolutionizing the perception and conception of the vehicle. The first seeds were sown back in the autumn of 2015, when the “Dieselgate” scandal erupted, and the electric drive gathered pace as a result. Since then, general policy has obliged the automotive industry to change tack, to start decarbonizing its products and start electrifying them instead. This revolution does involve a few unknowns. It’s true that emissions will be drastically reduced, but people tend to underestimate other implications. For one thing, people will find it progressively harder to buy and own private transport, as the technological leap will necessarily drive prices higher. And we need an energy policy that accounts for the risks that electrification will bring to the industrial fabric of Europe. On the other side of the world, there is no doubt that China will benefit from our energy revolution, as it is they who possess the know-how – and the raw materials – to mass produce the rechargeable batteries required.
The car is in some ways a symbol of Italy’s economic boom. It represented a certain way of living, of moving; the Vivere di Gusto that lent its name to this magazine. What place will the electric car find in this landscape, with its limited range, among other, better characteristics?
Today, the limitations of the electric car are known to all: the short range, combined with a still-insufficient charging infrastructure, are obstacles that will have to be overcome if the vehicle is to break into the mass market. But, though the fully electric car is still clearly yet to ripen as a solution, it is recognized as the first step in evolution that will eventually catch up with the internal combustion engine. I’m fully aware of the firepower that the carmakers have at their disposable: I have serious doubts, however, about the ease of getting a whole new ecosystem on its feet, an ecosystem which is trumpeted by politicians as a way of winning votes, but which hasn’t actually been fully worked out yet.
The western world, in this case, occupies the moral high ground; its position is less strong when it comes to putting the details of new company policy into practice. What will be the “weight” of the car industry in this process, and has anyone really thought about it?
The automobile industry is often seen as a static industry, resistant to change. And to be fair, it has often deserved that reputation. But now things are different. The world of mobility is at the center of a general change of thinking, as unexpected as it is earthshaking. The future will bring zero-emissions transport, with all the infrastructure to support it. It will be an enormous social revolution. No wonder that the giants of other sectors, like Google and Apple, are enticed by the car industry. The important thing, as Quattroruote always underlines, is that the right to mobility has to be a universal right; it cannot become a privilege for the usual few.
Photos: courtesy Quattroruote
Gian Luca Pellegrini, who has led Quattroruote since 2014