The global automotive industry is expected to be worth almost $9 trillion by 2030. Vegan designs and kinder-thinking cars are how a future-dependent industry plans to sustain itself.
“There’s no way you can be a future-oriented company without really putting the environment at the forefront of your thinking,” says Jessica Uguccioni, lead lawyer of the Automated Vehicles Review, in the UK’s Law Commission. With the worldwide automotive industry’s revenue due to grow to just under $9 trillion by 2030, transformation is key to ensuring transport still has a planet to travel on.
Three key ways the industry plans to keep running is through vegan redesigns, electric power, and automation. Uguccioni, who has been working at the Law Commission just over 10 years, says that with a future-oriented industry, the message of sustainability can only be amped up.
In 2020, PETA announced that vegan car interiors were at an all-time high. After pressuring industry leaders for years, the organisation successfully reported that individuals such as Elon Musk are paving the way for cruelty-free vehicles. Model 3 from Tesla’s line is one of the engineer’s many ways he is committing to a leather-free company.
Lease Fetcher created a guide to vegan cars, providing a checklist for individuals to understand the interior and exterior layers of the ultimate ethical vehicle. Money.co.uk also joined the trend in September last year, with an eco-friendly index revealing the world’s top 10 kindest cars, top 10 vegan-friendly, leather-free interiors, and top 10 zero-emitting cars.
The Automated Vehicles Review is a project striving to regulate self-driving cars. The biggest hope for this is safety, for humans and animals alike.
“Although the primary goal is human safety, it would hopefully include wildlife,” she explains. In 2019, Project Splatter received nearly 16,000 wildlife roadkill reports, and despite the lockdown, 42 animals were already reported in the first week of 2021.
Self-driving cars are both a reflection of society’s increasing dependence on technology, and a sign we’re becoming more self-aware. Driving is one of the most likely ways a person can unwillingly kill another person, Uguccioni says, with over 1,700 annual deaths on the road in the UK alone.
Artificially intelligent cars mean people should no longer get distracted, tired or drunk. Vehicles can be programmed to never break rules, and that’s what tech aspires to be. We have already obtained automated breaking, which eliminates reaction time and is significantly mitigating crashes. But Uguccioni wants to go further. “What would a vehicle do if there was a cat crossing? Would it stop?” she asks. While she agrees humans are the key benchmark, and she would never choose an animal’s life over a person’s, ideally, automation will make it compatible for both.
The lawyer, who was raised vegetarian, has always been passionate about animals and the idea that they’re not objects. “Thinking about the way we commoditise them would upset me so much,” she says. While vegetarianism was an ethical choice her parents made, it quickly became her own. “I remember going to my friends’ houses and their parents offering me meat, as if I’d been deprived. I was so confused.”
The lawyer hasn’t always worked in automation. Her trajectory to her job today was a combination of academia and practical work. After starting out in corporate law, she moved from working at Durham University to the civil service. Her work with the Department for Transport on modernising transport law led to where she is now: working with self-driving cars. Her project is currently at its third and final consultation stage, and she says moving to this was the best decision she ever made.
On top of working with the UN, Uguccioni has travelled to Japan, the US and Israel. “All these countries have great technology and are outward-looking in how you regulate it,” she says. Today, though, from her flat in London, she says one thing we’ve learned from the coronavirus pandemic is we can travel a lot less. “Zoom calls are more sustainable and as a society, we are being forced to be smarter about how we do things,” she adds.
While we look for solutions, the industry is also looking at how to monetise the sustainability shift. AI, like most modern industries, hopes to become carbon neutral. The predominant way this is being done between big companies is carbon credits. “As part of the way it makes money, Tesla is getting carbon credits that it acquires by making electric vehicles and selling them to car companies that don’t yet have an electric fleet,” Uguccioni explains.
The future of the automotive industry is here. And it’s very bright. “In terms of what companies have to deliver, the environment has really come to the top of the agenda,” the lawyer says.
November 2020 saw Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which highlighted the ban of new petrol and diesel cars by the year 2030. These instead will be swapped out for electric vehicles, and investment in grants to help buy cars and charge point infrastructure throughout the UK.
Uguccioni says this is a massively ambitious commitment, but not necessarily unachievable. However, there are still unanswered questions about how green electric cars really are, like how batteries are disposed of, or how we can recycle them. She says there are areas yet to be fully addressed, “and that’s something we have to do better at”.