EN – Automobile : “Light is right”. Open letter to political representatives

Dear Madam, Sir,  

The research activities of the mobility and road safety experts of the Fédération Inter-Environnement Wallonie (IEW) and Parents d’Enfants Victimes de la Route -SAVE asbl (PEVR) found an interesting echo in the enlightened and bold words of Mr Xavier Daffe, editor-in-chief of Belgium’s best-known automobile magazine, Moniteur Automobile. These were written during the manufacturers’ advertising campaigns, which are all the more intense as the annual Brussels Motor Show could not be held this year. This particular context prompts us to send you this open letter.

But let us first of all give the floor to Mr Daffe[1].

« But why, in a context of environmental transition[2] (…) are manufacturers still trying to develop electric (or electrified) cars with 400, 500 or 600 hp, or even more? Most often on SUV architectures whose relevance is similar to what would consist, from my point of view, in giving driving lessons to Valentino Rossi![3] What is this madness putting on the market electric or rechargeable hybrid machines, weighing more than 2 tons, whose outrageous power is at best used to move this mass, at worst is of no use… in a context of 30 km/h zones that are becoming more and more widespread? Frankly, beyond the simple caricature, the societal interest is beyond me« .

And he continues: « In 2013, I tested (…) an XL1 weighing 795 kg despite its rechargeable hybrid technology, combining an 800 cc diesel twin-cylinder with 48 hp and a 27 hp electric motor, with a fuel consumption of… 1 litre/100 km (i.e. about 26 g/km of CO2). The Cx was only 0.186, a value that is infinitely more advantageous in terms of efficiency than that of today’s SUVs, even though they are electrified. At the time, this small prototype was already capable of covering around 50 km in 100% electric mode. That is as much as today’s rechargeable hybrids. So where is the progress? At what point did we fall into the trap? Isn’t it time to come to our senses and say, as a certain Colin[4] said, that weight is the enemy? »

These words, concrete, straightforward and precise at the same time – and shared, in our opinion, by many automobile experts – reflect the concept of LISA Car (Light and safe car) [5] developed in 2014 by IEW and PEVR. This concept:

1) consists in the promotion of a light, reasonably powerful and fast car with a more fluid profile;

2) aims to establish a regulatory framework that precisely limits the mass, power and speed of cars as well as the aggressiveness of their front end.

Furthermore, in a logic of transition towards a model of sustainable mobility, the motorisation of the LISA Car will preferably be electric and its use will be based on a logic of sharing. The second point is the uniqueness of our approach: faced with the inability of the automobile industry to change its policies to meet the challenges of the climate, public health and road safety[6], we have drawn up a series of precise recommendations for political leaders, adapted to the different levels of power, from the municipality to the European Union[7]. Political action has indeed the capacity to guide the automobile industry in a necessary reconversion taking into account not only the present and future societal interest, but also, in our conviction, the industrial interest.

A call for regulation of the automobile market in favour of (e)Lisa Car[8] has been signed by 30 organisations (industrial players, environmental and road safety NGOs, transition stakeholders, etc.) and more than 200 citizens, including many experts in mobility, road safety, environment and sustainable development. We have also received many marks of interest in the proposals we put forward, particularly from automobile engineering experts and political representatives at all levels of government.

Each beginning of January, in Belgium, the news is traditionally largely devoted to mobility and automobile issues. Although the Brussels Motor Show has been postponed for a year due to the pandemic, this January 2021 is no exception to the rule. Under the leadership of Febiac, the manufacturers have in fact developed an impressive advertising campaign. Unsurprisingly, a large part (not to say the majority) of the models promoted by the different brands are of the SUV type, the archetype of the anti LISA Car.

We would also like to stress the importance of leaving the trend denounced by Mr. Daffe and to move from the marks of interest in the LISA Car concept to concrete advances towards this necessary reorientation of automobile production. At the heart of these recommendations is the consideration of weight: Light is right!

We are at your very disposal to present to you our ideas for political action at the local, regional, federal and European levels.

In the meantime, please accept our respectful greetings,

Sylvie Meekers, General director of Inter-Environnement Wallonie asbl

Koen Van Wonterghem, Managing director of Parents d’Enfants Victimes de la Route –SAVE asbl

[1] Mais pourquoi donc ? Editorial of the Moniteur Automobile published on 06 January 2021, https://www.moniteurautomobile.be/actu-auto/edito/mais-pourquoi-donc-2021.html?

[2] Emphasis added.

[3] Italian motorbike speed rider, 9 times world champion.

[4] Reference to Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus, an engineer who tried to apply aeronautical principles to the automobile, mainly lightweighting. « Light is Right » he liked to say – Editor’s note.

[5] A website is entirely dedicated to this concept : https://www.lisacar.eu

[6] Inability already noted in 1991 by the European Conference of Mobility Ministers: ECMT. 1992. 38th Annual Report – 1991. Activity of the Conference. Resolutions of the Council of Ministers of Transport and Reports approved in 1991. Paris: OECD Publishing, pp. 144-145.

[7] Climat, santé et sécurité : pour un phasing in de l’(e)Lisa Car, https://www.lisacar.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/eLisaCar.pdf

[8] https://www.lisacar.eu/appel-pour-la-production-et-la-promotion-des-voitures-raisonnables/