Sustainability and all things ‘eco’ are all too often tainted with a feeling of it being just ‘good PR’ but lacking substance or commercially not viable. This hasn’t been helped by the people who should know better – successive governments – who have been quick to water down or abandon sustainability targets at the drop of a hat. David Cameron’s government, for example, most notably ended the Zero Carbon Homes by 2016 dream in what many industry experts regarded as a ‘short sighted’ and ‘damaging’ back-track. This followed a decade of innovation and progression by the housebuilding sector and countless product suppliers into that market – arguably wasted effort.
The 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show was therefore extremely encouraging – and a testament to what the market can achieve, eventually. A couple of years ago, speaking on the topic of ‘what is design?’, the best-selling author, cultural commentator and award-winning journalist Stephen Bayley declared that the combustion engine era was over. Even with his compelling reasons, there was more than a bit of the ‘yes we’ll believe it when we see it’ feeling, given that the electric and hybrid vehicles available at that time were still a left-field choice.
Fast forward to the Messe Frankfurt last week and the 150 football pitch expanse of exhibition space displaying vehicles from nearly all the major manufacturers – and the dominant German manufacturers, in particular, putting on a real show. Walking around the show, it quickly became apparent that electric and hybrid technology is the future. But not 2050 or 2030, the immediate future. It goes way beyond niche choices like the Toyota Prius. Cars like the newly launched BMW i3s and Volkswagen Golf GTE are the here and now, albeit with hefty price tags still. But concepts such as the new MINI Electric are not too far away either, especially given that the iconic manufacturer is already successfully selling a hybrid car, and it is evident that all mainstream manufacturers are making rapid progress in bringing their more sustainable vehicles to the market.
Market forces, the decline of fossil fuels, the evolution of new technology and changing consumer demands? The reasons why sustainable vehicles seem to be succeeding are many and varied. But it’s also a testament to the companies behind the consumer brands – those manufacturers who make it possible to create cars that have a minimal carbon footprint. Companies such as BASF, Bosch, SFS intec and thyssenkrupp all proudly exhibited, quietly getting on with their business in the halls away from the eye-catching finished vehicles complete with their glitz and glamour.
Given that the combustion-engine and the car have played such a key role in shaping our world as it is today, could the greater uptake of electric and hybrid cars lead to a mindset shift across all aspects of our life? It could be the catalyst that’s needed for increased use of the innovative materials and technologies in the building industry that already exist to create low energy, low emission homes. This could be far more effective than relying on politicians to drive forward the green agenda. Hats off the car industry for this gear shift and the increased pace of change.