Car companies are at a junction, with an urgent need to address the pollution their vehicles cause, especially in cities. Some of the huge manufacturers are responding much more effectively than others
The big car companies are in an enviable position. They offer an aspirational product that almost everyone wants. Modern society is, after all, built on the car. The industry’s success is shown by steadily rising global sales. Figures from the International Organisation of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers show that new passenger car registrations worldwide rose from about 45m in 2005 to 65m in 2014, with only a relatively small downward blip in the economic crisis years of 2008 and 2009.
In the main producing countries, car companies are leviathans with massive power on which whole ecosystems of suppliers and workers depend. Germany, for example, in the second quarter of 2015, produced almost 3m passenger cars. During the same period, 1.6m new cars were registered in Germany, giving a net export figure of 1.4 million – more than the total production of any other country apart from China, Japan, the United States, South Korea and India. The big car brands “are of national importance for economies and governments,” says Tom de Vleeschauwer, director of long term planning and sustainability at analysts IHS.
But power can of course corrupt. It can also engender complacency and resistance to change. For example, manufacturers have...