Electrifying Mexico

How will electric vehicles affect Mexico and how will automakers find the same success as they have with conventional vehicles? Alex Kreetzer speaks to the Managing Director of Volvo Cars Mexico, Torben Eckardt to find out.

There are over 5,500,000 cars in Mexico City, creating a serious problem for the government which is working hard to get as many gasoline powered cars off its roads. Due to this great number of vehicles, Mexico City’s air pollution is twice the level of particulate pollutants considered safe by the World Health Organisation, making it one of the most polluted cities in the world. Unfortunately, most people in Mexico City are still using very dated vehicles, which pollute the air 10-20 times more than modern vehicles, which is creating a highly contaminated and dangerous place to live for residents. To make matters worse, the opinion of EVs in Mexico City is that they are expensive, unsafe, difficult to repair and have low residuals, which has stalled progression.

Eckardt believes that it is all about support and collaboration in order to boost the profile of electrification in Mexico through government incentives, improving infrastructure and educating people on the benefits of EVs. “Mexico is a very important country in Latin America and right now several important actions are being implemented. First of all, we must provide incentives to the industry to import and register hybrid and electric cars,” he says. “Secondly, we must facilitate locations for charge stations and broadly communicate the benefits of this technology.” It is obvious that more can be done nationwide, but cities in Mexico are now starting to take responsibility and are increasing awareness about the topic. Eckardt tells me that it is important to change the mindset “not only in customers, but also in the dealer's mind and the whole of the Mexican automotive industry.”

Staying ahead of the times

Volvo prides itself as a pioneer of electrification and modern technology, fully-committed to embracing this change. The industry has constantly improved at a steady rate, however it is only in the last few years that we have seen such an accelerated development cycle, thanks to rapid growth in the technology sector. “There are seldom sharp ends in the automotive industry – rather, we are often seeing evolutions,” says Eckardt. “In the past these evolutions took a long time, but now it happens at a much higher speed of change. In Volvo Cars, what you probably see as a ‘new era’ is already part of our products and strategies today.” Although this technology era has taken the automotive world by storm, there is still some uncertainty in Mexico, however Eckardt believes that the utilisation of technology and innovation in the region will significantly benefit the day-to-day lives of its citizens. “Volvo Car Group is assuming a leadership role in many areas of this evolution, making innovations and embracing the future today according to the needs of people and the environment. This is nothing special, as Volvo has always focused on technology and design that makes sense for human beings,” he says. “Mexico’s automotive industry is one of the best in the world and is always dynamic and innovative according to global industry changes and expectations, so this is very positive. As an example, the next Volvo car built in Charleston in South Carolina will contain 33% highly technical parts produced by Mexican suppliers.” This also shows that the EV growth will not just benefit consumers, but local businesses such as suppliers.

The next step for Mexico to embrace electrification is improving its infrastructure to accommodate these environmentally friendly cars. Unlike Europe or the US, Mexico lacks the support for EVs, which is why many consumers are yet to welcome them, which has put off governments from investing in something with low demand. Eckardt believes that by improving infrastructure in Mexico, such as charging stations, people will become more attracted to the idea of switching over from conventional fuels. “The easier it is to charge and the more visible the new technology is, the more people will be inclined to adapt,” he says. “Mexico has, in broad terms, a very traditional automotive industry and therefore it will still take some time - especially as high technology cars are still quite a lot more expensive, even with present incentives. Secondly, the general mind-set about electric cars being too expensive, unsafe, difficult to repair and have low residuals needs to change.” By maintaining communication, training and incentives from the government, people will start to understand the pros of electrification which will help automakers in Mexico thrive from growing EV demand.

Revolutionising the brand

Back in July, Volvo announced that every car launched from 2019 will have an electric motor, marking the historic end of cars that only have an internal combustion engine and placing electrification at the core of its future business. The statement represents one of the most significant moves by any car maker to embrace electrification and highlights how, over a century after the invention of the internal combustion engine, electrification is paving the way for a new chapter in automotive history. It will launch five fully-electric cars between 2019 and 2021, three of which will be Volvo models and two of which will be high performance electrified cars from Polestar, Volvo’s performance car arm. Eckardt is proud of his company and tells me that we will see Volvo’s best car portfolio yet. “We already offer today’s technology, connectivity, design and equipment, serving as a reference for many around the globe today. Volvo is also making changes in the dealer facilities and the dealer network, to secure that our products are not only excellent, but also the services and offers to the customers.” This is key for Volvo as it allows a greater relationship between the automaker and its consumers during this EV revolution.

In addition to this, automotive mobility has sparked new relationships between Volvo and its suppliers. Partnerships with Apple, Uber and Autoliv have all helped Volvo work towards its long-term goals in the technology and mobility fields, creating new driving systems regarding autonomous driving, mobility and safety. “Currently, companies which are not thinking in terms of mobility or autonomy are honestly losing future industrial ground. Obviously, the suppliers supporting these innovations are playing a crucial role,” adds Eckardt. Once again, it is so crucial for collaboration from all sides as it is extremely difficult for a company to produce and support EVs alone. For example, by working with industry leaders and the government, Volvo has been working towards creating a global standard for EVs. “Any new technology to be spread across a nation, region or even globally has the highest chance of quick adoption if there is a standard,” Eckardt continues, “but the wider the adoption the more difficult it becomes to find a common standard. In order not to lose time, discussions among car manufacturers, country authorities and system suppliers must start already. Hopefully, they can then soon find solutions that benefit consumers, which is also acceptable for the other parties.”

Mexico’s statement

The rapid development within electrification and autonomous driving has been fueled by the combination of politicians, governments and environmental groups, but also by designers and manufacturers of the technology. However, certain countries and manufacturers have been a lot more active in this evolution than others. Eckardt tells me that the regulations in Mexico are not as tough as in Europe and California, however this is starting to change. “In Mexico City, there are increasingly tough regulations in terms of CO2 emissions and it is required to prove compliance with these legal requirements in order to import new vehicles,” he tells me. Now it is time for Mexico to support this shift and adapt its infrastructure and laws to help EVs take off in the country. “Mexico should expand the amount of charging stations, including special parking around the country, and it also needs to improve many of its roads to enable autonomous driving,” Eckardt continues. “Automotive technicians, road construction engineers, traffic police and specialists in the public road service need in-depth training on electrification and autonomous systems.”

The next decade is vital to Mexico’s automotive industry; the country must look to implement this new technology in transportation to benefit from the same success it has had in the last few years, whilst significantly improving its environmental footprint. If successful, says Eckardt, Mexico could go through a huge transformation. “If supported, the adoption and evolution of this technology in Mexico could go faster than anyone normally could imagine. Furthermore, what happens in Mexico could also serve as an example for other countries in Latin American and have a positive effect on Mexico's reputation as well as the environment and quality of living,” he says. “Imagine if the Mexican government and municipality politicians took on this challenge both for the prestige, but also for the good of people in Mexico, the industry and neighbouring countries!”

You may also like:

New Mobility | Visions | Three6Zero Limited © 2017