European supplier

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Harnessing the power of innovation

Automotive suppliers, in their more than 100-year history, have been champions in adapting to new product- and marketing opportunities. And they are, once again, doing so today. European suppliers see a broader role for themselves as the mobility industry evolves. They are focusing on electric-powertrain technology, investing in core software expertise, developing data-based services and working with all stakeholders to realise the mobility business models that will define tomorrow’s transportation ecosystem. Mobility as a service (MaaS) is a big new growth area.

The European automotive supplier community is committed to leading the technology-driven transformation of mobility, even as new players from the high-tech, IT, internet and communications industries are entering the market, eager to play a role in the mobility business. European suppliers are forging alliances with these new market entrants, but they are also making sure they are offering the key technologies their automotive customers need going forward. Building on more than a century of providing high-quality core components and systems to the automotive sector, European suppliers will enable the fundamental changes that will be coming to the global mobility industry while supporting European employment and livelihoods for citizens.

As global competition intensifies, the European supplier industry is investing more in R&D and developing the new expertise required to meet changing customer requirements. Important core expertise will cover areas such as software, artificial intelligence, connectivity, data analytics, electric and alternative powertrains, safety and battery cell technology. But next to these new automotive areas, traditional mechanical, electronics and general engineering skills will continue to support European suppliers’ leading role in the mobility business.

European suppliers also have a strong commitment to the automotive aftermarket, which sustains a massive number of vehicles on the road today with spare parts and components. Key to the successful functioning of the aftermarket will be the unrestricted and standardised access to vehicle data for suppliers and repairers. Such access will not only ensure competition and lower cost for consumers, but it will also open up possibilities to develop new products and services. Already, aftermarket suppliers are boosting their IT capabilities, while developing new advanced diagnostics tools, maintenance software products and on-demand services that meet changing customer needs and generate new revenue.

R&D investment in the automotive sector by world region

in billion € / % Change

Source: European Commission, The EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard

EU R&D Investment by sector in 2018

Source: European Commission, The EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard

Regulatory framework more essential than ever

A functioning, reliable and innovation-friendly legal framework across European borders will be a prerequisite for continued success in a world increasingly characterised by global competition. European supplier companies can only be leaders in their field when their home market operates with as few internal barriers as possible. Moreover, an industrial policy for the EU should put more emphasis on the target of increasing manufacturing to 20% of the overall economy. With the European auto industry operating in a global market, EU policy makers need to be ready to mitigate factors that negatively impact European competitiveness.

Fair and open markets as well as rules-based competition are the main drivers of a competitive industry. The automotive industry organises highly efficient global value and supply chains. Manufacturers and suppliers depend on a rules-based, fair, international trading system. The WTO, which provides a global trading framework as well as the tools to deal with disputes, should be strengthened and developed further to deal with the challenges of today and tomorrow. In this context, rules on subsidies, state-owned enterprises and intellectual property protection should be reinforced and, where necessary, strengthened.

Automotive suppliers support the multilateral and bilateral trade agenda of the European Commission. We recommend further facilitating international trade by dismantling tariffs and reducing barriers to access to third country markets via fair and ambitious trade agreements with important markets such as India, Mercosur and ASEAN. The current state of trade relations with the USA and the potential risk of a departure of the UK from the EU single market are a cause of great concern. Especially with regard to recent developments in world trade, the EU should leverage its strong economic position.

Global competition

China, the world’s biggest vehicle market, in particular requires a coordinated approach by all stakeholders in the European automotive industry. For European components and systems makers, China is a high-potential market and many suppliers are already well established there. For many, moreover, it is one of the biggest markets for their products. But the country’s growing auto industry is also a competitive challenge as Chinese companies internationalise and capitalise on their strength in a home market where they are heavily favoured by national regulations. The European Union needs to push for free and fair trade and reciprocity in all regulatory fields, while at the same time making sure that European companies are supported in the global market.

If European companies are going to maintain their innovation power, they must have steady and secure access to the raw materials and intermediate products they need, regardless of the provenance of these materials. EU policy should support this unfettered access to avoid supply chain disruptions that could, for example, result from the current trade dispute between China and the US. At the same time, European policy makers should support R&D efforts to develop alternative technology solutions that can reduce dependence on materials whose supply outlook is uncertain.

Global technical harmonisation is a key factor in strengthening the competitiveness of a traditionally highly export-intensive EU automotive industry. Development costs can be reduced, and duplicate administrative procedures can be avoided by establishing common technical requirements, such as those under the UNECE framework, and in particular through the introduction of mutual recognition of international whole vehicle type approval (IWVTA). Automotive suppliers contribute to defining such global standard, and call on the EU institutions to ensure alignment of regulations in this area.

A European Skills agenda

Efforts are underway to build an agile work force in Europe that has the proper skills for tomorrow’s auto industry, but more work needs to be done in this area. There is a global competition for people with 21st century automotive technology skills and European suppliers need to be in a position to win that race. To do so, the industry is working with regulators, policy makers, think tanks, universities and other stakeholders to make sure students can acquire those skills, workers can be retrained and people with essential expertise can be recruited from anywhere in the world. European suppliers also support vocational training and lifelong learning programs developed in strong cooperation with universities and other institutions of higher education. But more efforts need to be made to assure the availability of experts with the relevant skillsets.

Promoting entrepreneurial spirit

To retain and expand the leadership role of Europe’s supplier industry, the region also needs to have a flexible and adaptable business environment that helps foster innovation. Europe-wide policies need to take into account the large role played in the automotive supply chain by small- and medium-size companies (SMEs). In addition, start-ups play a crucial role in cementing the industry’s leading position and further improvements in the cultural and business climate are needed to encourage young entrepreneurs to commit to automotive technology innovation. High-tech clusters in many parts of the world are competing for technology leadership and Europe must aim for a top ranking in this competition. Industrial companies must work with governments to forge cultural change and support innovation in many different ways.

European suppliers are committed to maintaining and raising the competitiveness of the automotive industry. To do so, they are investing heavily in research and are fostering innovation, with the aim of maintaining competitiveness through quality and excellence. Public support and funding for research and innovation projects, for example in the framework of the Horizon Europe programme, has an important role to play in the competition with other world regions, such as the USA, China, Japan and Korea but requires equally strong budgets as well as unbureaucratic, technology neutral procedures.

To assure the competitiveness of the European supplier industry and automotive manufacturing across the region, several strategic initiatives need to be undertaken and supported by the European Union.

Support European competitiveness through comprehensive industrial policy, reconfirming the commitment to industrial manufacturing.

Supply of raw materials and substances, as well as transformed materials, must be assured in Europe to allow production of advanced inanovations.

Provide a reliable legal framework for rolling out the new mobility ecosystem and industrial manufacturing in the EU.

Strengthen the multilateral approach to fair and rules- based international trade and open competition, dismantle tariffs and barriers to market access, and defend this approach against protectionism and unfair competition.

Achieve systematic and global training of employees in relevant “new” skills and a mobile workforce.

Contribute to harmonising technical requirements across the European Union and worldwide.

Ensure funding for research and innovation which supports strategic objectives of sustainability, safety, connectivity and automation.