Europe has embarked, and France with it, in a race against time that is both ambitious and perilous. By 2050, the old continent must become carbon neutral. This particularly concerns the transport sector, currently responsible for around a third of greenhouse gas emissions in France. A considerable carbon impact, which allows us to measure the scale of the current challenge.
Indeed, Europe has set milestones by 2050. The first of them, in 2035, will see the ban on the sale of thermal vehicles. A giant step forward for the automotive sector and a breakthrough that was unimaginable just a few decades ago. Even today, many voices question the real ecological “gain” of the transition from thermal vehicles to electric vehicles. The latter in fact seem intended to massively replace the existing automobile fleet, despite obvious constraints: the weight of the batteries, the autonomy of the vehicles, the extremely heavy infrastructure necessary to ensure their operation throughout the territory… These brakes could disappear one after the other, due to technological breakthroughs. There remains the price of electric vehicles, which if not subsidized constitutes a major obstacle to their massive deployment. Other avenues such as hydrogen and biofuels could see new sectors develop.
But the disruption that will see the shift from thermal to zero-emission modes of transport does not constitute the only upheaval that will affect the transport sector between now and 2050.
Indeed, the deployment of increasingly autonomous and connected vehicles will also significantly reduce GHG emissions linked to the transport sector. By offering smarter services, transport will, for example, become more efficient, carrying an optimal number of passengers via shared vehicles. They will adapt their speed to streamline traffic and consume as little energy as possible. This transition to more intelligent transport will therefore have a double effect, ecological and service.
To get there, Europe is increasing research projects, because vehicle autonomy also means reliability and safety. However, the deployment of an autonomous and reliable vehicle is not for tomorrow. Here too, technological breakthroughs will have to be numerous before achieving a fully autonomous vehicle, and the infrastructure essential to its operation, even if it is under development, is only embryonic to date. And if it is difficult to imagine what degree of autonomy will be achieved by 2035, it is easy to argue that it will not reach 5, the desired holy grail.
Thus, for electric vehicles as for autonomous transport, the steps to come between now and 2035 are numerous and constitute disruptive technological challenges. The comparison goes further: in fact, these two types of vehicles require specific infrastructure to be deployed on a massive scale, which is not yet complete. Either way, both electric and autonomous vehicles will need to deliver on their promises to achieve carbon neutrality in transport by 2050.