4 Questions for… Houchan Shoeibi and Dominique Labilloy

Electrification, connectivity, self-driving vehicles and car sharing. Tomorrow’s mobility faces many significant challenges. Houchan Shoeibi, CEO BU Mobility, and Dominique Labilloy, HPS Innovation Development Director, talk to us about Saint-Gobain’s role in this new revolution.

“Making the world a better home” is Saint-Gobain’s purpose. What role should the mobility sector play?

Houchan Shoeibi: Mobility is at the heart of these issues, especially when you think that the transportation sector accounts for one-quarter of all CO2 emissions globally. At the Mobility BU, we are therefore committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 65% by 2030 compared with the 2019 baseline for scopes 1 and 2*. This commitment tallies with the Group’s target of reaching net zero carbon by 2050. To achieve this, we have drawn up an investment and improvement plan for our processes.

Dominique Labilloy: This issue is crucial. If we want to achieve the COP21 targets, we will have to cut transport-related emissions by 60 to 70%, while still meeting mobility needs, which are growing exponentially. Technology and digitalization have of course made the world smaller, but the need to connect physically with each other remains a fundamental human need.

Mobility is therefore an environmental challenge?

Houchan Shoeibi: True. A collective challenge that involves politicians, local authorities and companies as well as their customers and suppliers. For our customers, a major revolution is underway, especially in the automobile industry, to reconcile individual mobility expectations with the collective obligation to reduce environmental impact. Environmental excellence is no longer just something that is nice to have. We are co-developing with them solutions to improve their products’ performance and make them less polluting. Similarly, we place the same environmental demands on our suppliers.

Dominique Labilloy: The challenge is the switch to next technology; to do away with the internal combustion engine. Even if the current state of the technology has significantly reduced emissions, it is not enough to offset the increase in traffic. We have to work together to invent new technology and Saint-Gobain and HPS, in particular, must contribute the full scope of their expertise.

We must overcome the limitations of electric vehicles (autonomy and charging network), and get some leverage on hydrogen. Will that be THE solution for the future? At present, it is impossible to answer this question. But one thing is certain, we need to work on it if we are to be part of the answer. The challenge for us is also to improve our industrial response, i.e., the sector’s CO2 impact and the breakdown between production and use. We must continue to optimize our existing technology to help bring about new technology enabling us to make a quantum leap in terms of environmental performance.

Houchan Shoeibi: Absolutely. This implies actions right throughout our value chain: reducing energy and water consumption, and cutting waste. A greener supply chain with responsible purchasing, electric trucks for customer deliveries, etc. And of course, more sustainable products and solutions.

How are end customers’ expectations changing?

Houchan Shoeibi: I see four main trends: electrification, connectivity, self-driving vehicles and car sharing (along with multi-modality).

Electrification and connectivity will be rolled out quite quickly. In Europe, subsidies are expected to push the number of electric vehicles in the world to 25% by 2025 compared with just 7% today. Connectivity will be user-driven. The vehicle will become an extension of the smartphone.

Autonomy and car sharing are underlying trends, but probably longer term. The self-driving vehicle is not really a technological challenge, the barriers are regulatory (responsibility in the event of an accident), infrastructure (well-marked roads are needed, which is far from being the case everywhere, even in developed countries), and user acceptance (do we really trust these systems?). We have some way to go on this.

Dominique Labilloy: Cultural and social factors will also affect how these new mobility modes are accepted. For example, young people today are far less attached to cars as objects. And then there is growing urbanization. In rural areas, we will not see the same changes as in denser urban areas.

Houchan Shoeibi: I have been struck by the acceleration in Mobility as a Service (MaaS), especially in emerging countries. I was convinced that it would take far longer, as ownership of a vehicle can still be seen as a sign of success. But that is apparently no longer the case. In overpopulated cities with dense traffic, scarce parking and potential security issues, there nothing better than ride-hailing cars for getting about. Even if the health crisis has put a damper on shared mobility and a return to personal cars, I think this will be no more than a blip.

Dominique Labilloy: Transportation comfort and ease of use are essential for end customers. It is what will make people switch or not to these new forms of mobility; the power train technology itself will also be a factor here.

What do these changing uses and technology mean for Saint-Gobain? 

Dominique Labilloy: Our prime job is to identify the newcomers and new technologies that we should be focusing on. We need to be able to create links with these players at the right time so that they become contacts, specifiers and customers. Except we do not know beforehand who is going to succeed. When the notion of electric vehicle first appeared, it was difficult to predict who today’s leaders would be. You just have to be active in emerging areas and accept that not everything will work out in the end.

Houchan Shoeibi: We also need to identify the best cases of MaaS usage and provide corresponding solutions. For example, for a self-driving vehicle, safety doesn’t just mean safety glass, it also means radars, cameras and lidars incorporated into the windscreen. In a shared vehicle, it means being able to quickly replace the air in the passenger compartment. Regarding connectivity, it means incorporating antennae into cars’ glazed surfaces and train widows that ensure thermal comfort but also allow GSM to pass, aircraft radomes that allow passengers to access inflight WiFi, etc. Then there is also the development of anti-viral solutions to make surfaces safer, filtration to improve air quality, and so forth.

Dominique Labilloy: In terms of the Internet of Things, new business models will have to be invented, for example, collecting and recovering data for users.

And then there is hydrogen, again. Our customers are starting to take a position here and are asking us for solutions. Hydrogen’s use requires pressure and temperatures that demand high-performance materials. We are exploring several applications across the value chain: production, storage, transportation, filling and use. Batteries are not out of the picture yet: we are involved in thermal insulation and fire protection; our ceramics help improve battery costs and capacity. We are also working on topics relating to the raw materials involved in battery manufacture.

Houchan Shoeibi: Mobility is undergoing a profound transformation; tomorrow’s vehicles will be different both in terms of design and use. It is our job to help invent the mobility of the future.

* Click here to see the definition of Scopes 1, 2 and 3 of greenhouse gas emissions.