Turning a corner

Opinion article by Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of the Swedish electric car manufacturer Polestar.

Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of the Swedish electric car manufacturer Polestar.

Fraunhofer magazine 1.2023

Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of the Swedish electric car manufacturer Polestar.
© Foto: Thomas Einberger/argum/imago images
A former car designer for the Volkswagen Group, Thomas Ingenlath has been CEO of Polestar, a Swedish e-car specialist, since 2017.

Electrification is just the beginning: Even if the automotive industry transitioned to selling entirely electric cars tomorrow, its emissions would still be far above its total CO2 “budget.” At this crucial juncture in history, all the stakeholders in the sector must realize that it’s time to work together.

Today, emissions from passenger cars make up 15 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is that, in contrast to other industries, the automotive industry already has an existing, scalable solution to the climate crisis: the electric car. So far, our industry has focused primarily on electrifying cars and speeding up distribution. If we are serious about tackling the climate crisis, however, we must concede that electrification is just the beginning rather than our end goal.

The Pathway Report – compiled by Polestar and Rivian, a US-based electric car manufacturer, in collaboration with the global consultancy firm Kearney – found that the automotive industry is set to exceed its global carbon budget by 2035. From this point on, it would massively overshoot the 1.5-degree limit on global warming, reaching an excess of 75 percent by 2050. Moreover, in simulations of a hypothetical “well-to-wheel” scenario based on an aggressive roll-out of battery-powered electric vehicles that – also hypothetically – run entirely on renewable energy, it has been shown that there will still be an excess of greenhouse gas emissions unless the issue of emissions from the manufacturing supply chain is also addressed at the same time.

The shocking results of the Pathway Report were shared by Polestar, Rivian and Kearney with some of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers prior to the report’s publication. We have also invited the industry to come together to review the data and begin work on certain aspects of collective climate action. The data reveals a possible path with three core elements. Element one is the speed at which fossil-fuel-powered cars will have to be replaced by electric cars. Element two concerns the expansion of renewable energies in power grids, while element three involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing supply chain.

It is only if all automotive manufacturers take immediate, joint action that we still stand a chance: First, the industry needs to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles by investing in the required production capacity and establishing a firm end date for the global sale of fossil-fuel-powered cars. Second, it is necessary to expand the supply of renewable energy to global grids in order to ensure that electric vehicles can realize their full potential through a green charging system. Third, the industry must decarbonize its manufacturing supply chains for the production of these vehicles by switching to low-carbon materials and investing in supply chain solutions based on renewable energy.

Tackling the huge challenges associated with this third element and decarbonizing supply chains will only succeed through collaboration. Together, we can send a clear signal to suppliers, by using our collective purchasing power to form demand coalitions and working together toward ambitious goals. In April 2021, we launched the Polestar 0 project. Our goal is to build a genuinely carbon-neutral car by 2030 – to do this, we will change the way cars are made instead of relying on misleading carbon offset schemes. In other words, we want to eliminate all CO2e sources from the entire supply chain, from raw material extraction processes and material and vehicle production to delivery and end-of-life procedures.

So far, we have signed research agreements with more than 20 of the world’s leading automotive suppliers from across the supply chain, including German market leaders such as the global technology company ZF, Vitesco, which provides powertrain and power transmission technologies for the automotive industry, and Schlötter, a specialist in electroplating technology.

We are delighted that so many others now share our vision and wish to participate in this project – however, our search goes on. We still need partners from the worlds of academia and industry, and we are focusing on finding partners for raw materials, bio-based chemicals, polymers, electrical components, noble gases and the production of other basic materials.