Qatar’s streets are loaded with people driving luxury sportscars, massive SUVs and stretched sedans powered by 12-cylinder engines, but that could change. The government of the world’s richest nation (based on 2010 gross domestic product per capita data) wants consumers to switch to green cars. It’s one of the challenges facing a country that is determined to be an even bigger player in the automotive industry.
I was in Qatar this week to moderate a portion of the Middle East Automotive Summit, a one-day event that kicked off the 2012 Qatar auto show. A number of hot topics were discussed in the desert such as how to response to a global population that is getting larger, older and more urban. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be 9.2 billion people on the plant – up from about 7 billion today and 8 billion by 2030. The number of cars on the road is expected to grow to 3 billion by 2050 from 700 million. That’s a lot of traffic congestion and emissions – depending on what those 3 billion people will be driving.
All the speakers at the summit agreed that megacities and lightweight materials will play key roles in the future.
Megacities will drive decision-making on the best use of water, energy and mobility.
“And lightweight materials are becoming an imperative for the transportation sector … to reduce CO2 emissions,” said Ahmed M. Sorour, CEO of the Qatar Automotive Gateway.
His company wants to make Qatar an automotive industrial hub by 2020. A step toward reaching that goal came this week when Volkswagen and Porsche announced they would build a joint test center for lightweight materials at the Qatar Science & Technology Park in Doha, the country’s capital.
Sorour also said that Qatar Automotive Gateway wants to find partners who will come to the country to set up research centers for aluminum components and lithium ion battery materials.
Maybe Qatar Holding, the country’s investment arm, needs to put more money into the global automotive industry. Qatar Holding already owns 18 percent of VW’s common shares and has a 10 percent stake in Porsche SE.
It seems likely that Qatar, with its huge natural gas reserves, will play a greater role in the automotive industry in the future. What seems less likely, given that a liter of gasoline is cheaper than a liter of water, is that small electric vehicles will soon take control of the roads from those powerful and pricey megacars.