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Commercial Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale?

Nuclear fusion has recently gained attention as a potential source of clean energy. It was a result of the US National Ignition Facility in California achieving a major milestone in December 2022 in which researchers were able to produce more energy than was used to ignite it for the first time. Several countries are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment project called ITER, focused on the construction and operation of an experimental fusion reactor located in France. Large-cap companies such as Google and the ministries regulating energy policies across the globe are also investing in fusion energy projects and start-ups to promote fusion energy generation. Despite huge investments, commercializing fusion energy still has a long way to go due to certain technological and operational challenges associated with the generation of this type of energy.

Ever-increasing carbon emissions due to the ongoing rise in energy consumption are driving the need for accelerating energy generation from renewable sources. As of October 2022, over 40% of global carbon emissions were caused by power generation. As per the International Energy Agency, carbon emissions from energy generation increased by 0.9% in 2022, in comparison with 2021, to reach 36.8GT.

Additionally, the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, particularly in Europe, further augmented the need for energy generation using renewable sources. The surge in energy demand from households and industries is putting pressure on the existing energy supplies, thus resulting in high energy prices.

So far, solar and wind energy sources have been prominently used across countries to meet the rapidly increasing energy demand. Nuclear fusion is another alternative renewable source as it does not emit carbon emissions or produce long-lived radioactive waste products, unlike nuclear fission.

Nuclear fusion is an energy-intensive process and requires high temperatures for fusion reaction. In the nuclear fusion process, energy is released by combining two atomic nuclei into one heavier nucleus. The released energy is then captured and converted into electricity by a fusion machine. This process is also the key source of energy in the sun and other stars.

Nuclear fusion releases around four million times more energy as compared to coal, gas, or oil, and four times more than nuclear fission technology. Nuclear fusion can provide energy to an extent that can power up homes, cities, and whole countries.

Current state of the nuclear fusion energy

The potential of generating nuclear fusion energy has been recognized since the 1950s. Countries across geographies have been involved in nuclear fusion research, led by the EU, USA, Russia, and Japan, along with vigorous programs underway in China, Brazil, Korea, and Canada. Various experimental fusion devices have been designed and constructed to advance and transform the way fusion energy is generated. These include tokamaks, stellarators, and laser-based technology devices. Tokamaks and stellarators have been used more commonly for fusion energy research experiments.

Some of the tokamaks and stellarators built across countries for generating fusion energy include the Joint European Torus (JET), started in the UK in 1978, the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, started in Germany in 1994, Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) started in South Korea in 1995, the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak- (MAST) initially started in the UK in 1997 and further upgraded to MAST-U in 2013, and Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) started in China in 2000, among others. Six countries, including China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, the USA, as well as the EU, are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment, ITER, an experimental fusion reactor currently under construction in France through EURATOM, the European Atomic Energy Community. ITER idea was first launched in 1985 and established in 2007. Its first experiment was scheduled to start in 2025 but is delayed due to Covid-19 disruptions. It is aimed at producing 500MW of fusion power from 50MW of input heating power.

Further, in 2017, China launched the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) project as a follow-up to the ITER. This tokamak device is aimed at producing an extremely powerful magnetic field to confine plasma and generate fusion energy. This magnetic field can contain and control hydrogen gas ten times hotter than the core of the sun. CFETR is aimed at producing a peak power output of 2GW once completed in 2035, bridging the gap between scientific experiments and commercial use.

Extensive progress has been noticed in studying laser-based technology for fusion energy generation. Some of the facilities that use laser technology to produce fusion energy include the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the USA and the Laser Mégajoule (LMJ) in France.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also supports its member states in research activities related to fusion energy generation. It also organizes various workshops on fusion power plant concept demonstrations, technical meetings, and coordinates research activities.

Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale?by EOS Intelligence

Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale? by EOS Intelligence

Some of the breakthroughs achieved in fusion energy experiments to date

There has been significant progress in the research and development activities focused on nuclear fusion energy generation. Researchers are continuously emphasizing optimizing the condition of plasma through changes in density, temperature, and confinement time to achieve the required level of performance for a power plant. Several nuclear reactors were able to sustain high temperatures during the fusion process. For instance, in January 2022, the EAST reactor in China sustained temperatures of 126 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is nearly five times hotter than the sun, for 17 minutes, and thus, broke the record for longest sustained nuclear fusion.

In February 2022, the Joint European Torus (JET) achieved a record performance for sustained fusion energy of 59MJ over five seconds.

Also, in September 2022, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) experiment achieved plasma temperatures of 120 million kelvins for up to 20 seconds, a key demonstration of simultaneous high temperatures and plasma stability.

Recently, in December 2022, a major breakthrough was achieved at the US National Ignition Facility in California by using inertial confinement fusion, which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers for the first time in the world. The laser shot released 3.15MJ of energy in comparison with the 2.05MJ pumped to the hydrogen isotope pellet by lasers. This breakthrough is likely to pave the way for abundant clean energy in the future.

Breakthroughs driving further investment in fusion energy R&D

Breakthroughs achieved over the past years in various projects have attracted significant investment by both the government and private sector in the research and development of fusion energy. For instance, in February 2023, Israel’s Ministry of Energy (MoE) proposed to provide US$11.5 million to establish a national nuclear fusion institute in Israel. This initiative includes major universities of Israel, namely the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Technion and Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as NT-Tao, an Israel-based start-up which is engaged in the development of a compact system for nuclear fusion.

Similarly, in October 2022, the UK government announced to provide US$249.6 million of funding for the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project’s first phase, which will include concept design by the UK Atomic Energy Authority by 2024. STEP is a program aimed at designing and constructing a prototype fusion energy plant by 2040.

In March 2022, the US Department of Energy (DOE) proposed to provide around US$50 million of federal funding to support US scientists involved in conducting experimental research in fusion energy science. Of this, US$20 million was to support tokamak facilities and US$30 million to support fusion research to improve the performance of fusion and increase the duration of burning plasma. In addition to this, the US government’s budget for the financial year 2023 included US$723 million for the Office of Science Fusion Energy Sciences research in enabling technologies, materials, advanced computing and simulation, and new partnerships with private fusion efforts. This amount included US$240 million for the ongoing construction of ITER tokamak. Also, the budget for the financial year 2024 includes US$16.5 billion to support climate science and clean energy innovation, including US$1 billion to advance fusion energy technology.

Private funding in fusion companies has also increased significantly in the recent past. As per the Fusion Industry Association Report 2022 published in July, private sector funding amounted to about US$4.8 billion in total, witnessing an increase of 139% since 2021. Fusion companies also received an additional US$117 million in grants and other funding from governments. Big resource groups such as Equinor, based in Norway, Google, and Chevron, based in the USA, have also invested in fusion energy research. For instance, in July 2022, Chevron, together with Google and Japan-based Sumitomo Corporation, invested in TAE Technologies, a US-based nuclear fusion start-up, in a US$250 million fundraising round to build its next-generation fusion machine.

In addition to this, entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, are also providing financial support. In December 2021, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) raised around US$1.8 billion in series B funding from various key investors, including Bill Gates, DFJ Growth, and Emerson Collective, among others, to commercialize fusion energy.

Companies engaged in nuclear fusion energy generation

More than 35 companies are engaged in fusion energy generation for commercial use, such as Tokamak Energy, General Fusion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Helion Energy, Zap Energy, and TAE Technologies, among others. These fusion companies are increasingly emphasizing collaborations and experimenting with new technologies to produce fusion energy and make it available for commercial use.

In March 2023, Eni, an energy group based in Italy, and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) based in the USA, a spin-out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), signed a collaboration agreement aimed at accelerating the industrialization of fusion energy.

In February 2023, TAE Technologies achieved a breakthrough in its hydrogen-boron fusion experiment in magnetically confined fusion plasma. This experiment was a collaboration between Japan’s National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFT) and TAE Technologies.

Also, in February 2023, Tokamak Energy proposed to build a new fusion energy advanced prototype at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus, UK, using power plant-relevant magnet technology. It also built the first set of high-temperature superconducting magnets for testing nuclear fusion power plants. This supermagnet can confine and control extremely hot plasma created during the fusion process.

Certain breakthroughs achieved over the years in the nuclear fusion energy field have encouraged the entry of various start-ups across geographies. For instance, Princeton Stellarators, a US-based start-up focused on building modular, utility-scale fusion power, was founded in 2022. Another start-up named Focused Energy, a Germany-based fusion company, was founded in 2021 to develop a fusion power plant based on laser and target technology. In September 2021, the company raised US$15 million in seed funding led by Prime Movers Lab, along with additional investment from various entrepreneurs.

Start-ups are also emphasizing raising funds to create new fusion technologies and make a significant impact on the industry. In February 2023, NT-Tao, an Israel-based nuclear fusion start-up founded in 2019, raised US$22 million in a series A funding round aimed at developing a high-density, compact fusion reactor to provide clean energy.

Additionally, in January 2023, Renaissance Fusion, a France-based start-up founded in 2020, raised US$16.4 million in a seed funding round led by Lowercarbon Capital. The company is engaged in the development of a stellarator reactor for fusion energy generation.

Challenges to nuclear fusion energy generation

Although a lot of companies and governments across geographies are investing in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments, building full-scale fusion-generating facilities requires advanced engineering, advanced vacuum systems, and superconducting magnets. One of the key challenges in the fusion process is the requirement of extremely high temperatures to produce energy. Also, it becomes difficult to control plasma at such high temperatures.

Additionally, the lack of availability of materials that can extract heat more effectively while withstanding their mechanical properties for a longer duration is another challenge affecting the fusion energy generation process.

Moreover, fusion research projects are also facing capital and financing challenges due to high upfront costs, return uncertainty, and long project duration. The capital investment involved in building and operating a fusion reactor is high due to complex technology that requires significant investment in R&D, high energy requirements, use of advanced materials, and regulatory requirements aimed at ensuring the safety and low environmental impact of the fusion reactor. The cost of building a fusion reactor ranges between tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. It can vary depending on various factors such as size, design, location, materials, and technology used.

Since fusion energy is a new technology, there is uncertainty about when nuclear fusion will become a viable and cost-effective energy source, such as other energy sources, including wind and solar. This makes it difficult for investors to invest in fusion projects and predict the return on investment.

However, ongoing research and development activities aimed at building advanced, highly efficient, and cost-effective fusion reactors and commercializing fusion energy generation at a large scale are likely to overcome these challenges in the long term.

EOS Perspective

Accelerating climate crisis is driving the investment in nuclear fusion research and development as it does not create carbon emissions and long-lasting nuclear waste products. Over the past several years, various fusion research projects, university programs, and start-ups have achieved breakthroughs in the fusion energy field. The most recent breakthrough at the US National Ignition Facility in California, which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers, has paved the way to the nuclear fusion gold rush and sparked excitement among investors, companies, and researchers.

Many fusion companies, such as Commonwealth Fusion Systems and TAE Technologies, are claiming to exceed breakeven by 2025 and commercialize fusion energy by 2030. Billions of dollars have been invested in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments but no company or projects have been able to achieve breakeven yet.

Several new fusion projects are planning on using advanced materials and putting a new generation of supercomputers to tweak the performance of ultrahigh-temperature plasma, but commercializing fusion energy is still far from reality. Moreover, the fusion process is very complex, requires extreme temperatures for fusion reactions, and involves huge energy costs. Thus, alternative clean energy sources such as wind and solar will likely remain the near-term methods to meet sustainable energy demand. At the same time, it should be expected that the increasing government support and investment by large cap organizations and entrepreneurs are likely to help set up viable fusion power plants in the future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

K-Beauty: A Trending Obsession Losing Its Novelty but Not without a Fight

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South Korea is the 9th largest cosmetic market globally with a market size of nearly US$ 12.6 billion. Innovative and affordable products made using exotic natural ingredients that focus on enhancing skin health and prevent skin concerns drive the success of K-beauty brands. Moreover, the launch of the first global customized cosmetics regulatory guidelines, along with support from the government to enhance R&D capabilities and to improve infrastructure, seem to reinforce further stability to the already growing sector. However, rising trends such as minimalism and concerns about sustainability might pose a challenge for the Korean beauty brands that thrive on the tenets of long product lines, multiple products pushed on a daily basis, and focus on packaging that tend to use plastic.

K-beauty brands are uniquely well-known due to the use of natural and unusual ingredients such as snail mucin, bee venom, ginseng, pearl, mushrooms, carrot seed oil, royal honey, and yuzu, among others, in their skincare and beauty products. Products incorporated with such ingredients may, at first, sound too out of the ordinary to be a part of one’s beauty regime but they are believed to be effective.

Korea’s beauty and cosmetic sector backed by strong government support

Korean domestic cosmetics industry, which offers growth prospect of more than 5% per year on average, draws huge support from the government. In November 2021, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare declared plans for 2022 to support the cosmetics industry through technology development, preparation of legal system, overseas expansion, and professional manpower training.

On the technology side, the government is focusing on developing a ‘skin genome data platform’ that can collect and utilize skin characteristics and genomic information by country and race. The government will also continue to make mid-to-long term R&D investments towards development of local and sustainable innovative raw materials.

Additionally, plans are underway to complete the construction of the K-Beauty Comprehensive School and Academy in Osong, North Chungcheong Province, for providing professional and comprehensive training to beauty professionals by 2023; the school is to provide comprehensive consulting and train workforce for the industry’s needs.

Another way the government supports the domestic Korean beauty companies is by offering tax breaks if they have an all-export business model.

With an aim to promote the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in cosmetics industry in Korea, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare along with Foundation of Korea Cosmetic Industry Institute, launched a pilot concept of ‘K-Beauty Experience and Promotion Center’ in September 2021. The center is a comprehensive exhibition space for domestic SMEs in Seoul, allowing SMEs to promote their innovative cosmetic products that they would otherwise be unable to promote due to lack of funds. This is expected to not only enhance brand awareness among domestic consumers but also to strengthen export competitiveness among foreign tourists visiting Korea as potential customers. A monthly event is to display more than 100 products from 30 companies (selected through monthly application process).

In another initiative to promote the beauty sector, the Seoul Metropolitan Government conducted an online beauty industry branding conference in September 2021. Held under the theme ‘Branding Seoul’s K-beauty Industry’, the conference was attended by domestic and international experts and content creators active in the fields of beauty and tourism. Aiming at expanding the K-beauty industry through the Seoul city brand, which constitutes 45.7% of the country’s domestic cosmetics distributors, plans are underway to develop beauty specific tourism products and tourism courses by partnering with beauty creators and beauty flagship stores.

In September 2022, the government also plans to set up K-Beauty consumer hotspots or zones, a place with several K-beauty shops offering discounted deals on beauty and cosmetic products in areas frequented by tourists.

New initiatives: customized cosmetics regulations and product refills

The South Korean Ministry of Drug and Safety (MFDS), in March 2020, introduced the world’s first regulatory guidelines on custom cosmetics. This will allow manufacturers to provide consumers with cosmetics made on the spot by mixing ingredients based on personal preferences. The regulations came into effect in October 2020 and aim at ensuring that businesses (manufacturers or retailers) comply with safety management standards for the formulation of custom cosmetics.

The authorities also encourage cosmetic companies to offer cosmetic product refill services keeping in mind environmental benefits as well as cost effectiveness. People can purchase refill products at 30% to 50% lower prices when compared to a newly packaged product. As of June 2021, the country had 150 custom cosmetic stores, out of which 10 stores offered refill services where consumers could refill products such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and liquid soap. The program will allow consumers to refill products on their own without the need of a customized cosmetics dispensing manager. To make this initiative more effective, a pilot program, which will run for two years, is being conducted wherein existing store staff (who have been trained to work at refill stores) can replace the customized cosmetics dispensing managers.

A customized cosmetics system, wherein certified individuals can mix cosmetics according to a consumer’s individual skin condition and preference at stores, is a revolutionary change in the beauty industry where any concerns related to product usage or suitability can be minimized, if not eliminated completely.

International brands and PE firms investing in Korean beauty brands

Innovation is at the forefront of the Korean beauty industry. A number of consumer goods and international beauty players have invested in innovative Korean beauty brands.

Estée Lauder, a multinational beauty company, acquired Have & Be Co. Ltd., a Korean beauty company, for nearly US$ 1.1 billion in 2019. The deal was made with a key focus on acquiring Dr. Jart+ brand, an innovative high-performing skin care brand, and Do The Right Thing (DTRT) men’s grooming brand.

In October 2021, Glow Recipe, a Korean skincare brand whose products are made with fruit extracts, received an investment from the US-based private equity firm North Castle Partners (for an undisclosed amount). The brand aims at using the investment funds for marketing and global expansion.

Private equity firms are also investing in local brands based in Korea. Helios Investment Partners, a London-based emerging markets-focused private equity firm, signed a stock purchase agreement (SPA) in October 2021, to acquire management rights with a 67% stake in Soleo Cosmetics, a cosmetics and household goods development and production company. The value of the transaction is said to be around US$ 32.5 million. Additionally, in September 2021, JKL Partners, South Korean private equity firm, announced that they will acquire Perenne Bell, a domestic brand that offers organic and sensitive skin products to consumers, and will help the brand focus on entering new markets, including the USA, Japan, and the Middle East.

Not everything is as ideal as it seems

Despite beauty brands claiming their products to be well-researched, organic, and environment friendly, issues exist. In early 2021, sunscreens from Korean brands such as Purito, Dear Klairs, and Keep Cool were under scrutiny when, on the basis of independent lab tests, it was found out that their sunscreens have far lower SPF that what was indicated on the packaging. Following the controversy, the brands withdrew their sunscreen products from the international markets and issued refunds to the customers.

In another incident, Innisfree, a cosmetic brand owned by Korean firm AmorePacific, was called out for misrepresenting the product’s eco-friendly credentials – on the packaging, the product was wrongly labelled as “paper bottle” whereas it actually came in a plastic bottle wrapped in paper.

Loyalty and trust are important in the beauty business and while it might be incorrect to write-off all Korean beauty brands based on a few bad incidents, consumers would not shy away from exploring other brands that offer what they claim.

EOS Perspective

Over the years, South Korea’s cosmetics industry has built a stronger position on the global map especially with the use of innovative and natural ingredients, and a shorter product development cycle. The quality of Korean beauty products, sold with a promise of flawless and crystal-clear skin, is the biggest selling point in a hyper-competitive beauty market.

The popularity of Korean skincare brands is definitely growing but it is not just driven by innovation or quality but also propelled by the mounting fascination for everything Korean, be it culture, entertainment, food, or beauty. Right now, the charm of Korean wave is so prominent that anything Korean will sell and Korean beauty brands are leveraging this opportunity to make big bucks. However, they might not to be able to ride the tide forever.

Since COVID-19, beauty industry has undergone momentous changes. As lifestyles changed and staying indoors and wearing masks became the new normal, the demand for make-up products decreased and the need for skincare products increased. The trend is here to stay. People want healthier skin but prefer to achieve it through easier, minimal, and effective skincare routines and K-beauty brands might be popular for a lot of things but minimalism. By updating their product lines with the strangest of ingredients, discontinuing products, and asserting the use of multiple products on a daily basis, Korean beauty brands tend to over-tire the consumers. Rising trends such as skinalism that focuses on single multi-functional products and sustainable packaging that demote the use of plastic pose further challenge for Korean beauty brands.

In the ever-changing beauty industry, beauty regimes change rapidly and country-led beauty regimes are no exception. With new beauty trends and regimes such as J-beauty and C-beauty quickly catching up among consumers, the novelty of K-beauty products will definitely wear off sooner or later.

K-beauty can perhaps be considered just a fad that stayed and resonated with consumers for more than a decade. For now, the appeal of this trend is not expected to fade very soon. As for the time when the ‘all things Korea’ fascination is over, only players who have been able to build their brand awareness and gain consumers’ trust are likely to successfully continue when the Korean tag will no longer be a pass for high sales.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Emerging Markets Take Vehicle Safety Standards Seriously (At least on Paper)!

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The article was first published in Automotive World’s Q3 2015 Megatrends Magazine

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Across emerging and frontier markets, most car buyers have generally focused on pricing, maintenance cost, and fuel economy, thereby ignoring the very important aspect of safety. The governments in these countries have also not given due importance to this aspect, as basic safety features such as air bags and ABS are not compulsory as per regulations. Taking advantage of this nonchalance of both customers and governments, OEMs have for long compromised on safety features, which are a critical part of all cars sold in developed markets.

In recent years, however, with customers becoming more aware and global safety organizations cajoling for higher safety standards, some emerging countries have introduced increased safety measures, which in turn will require significant changes in the cars sold by leading OEMs. While this is expected to affect the bottom-line of OEMs in these price-sensitive markets, not abiding to the changing environment is likely to prove equally costly, if not in the immediate term, but surely over the medium-to-long term.

Existing Safety Standards

Among the key emerging and frontier markets, vehicle safety standards in South Korea match the levels in Europe, while China has also shown immense progress in adopting the standard safety requirements in automobiles. But other developing countries, such as Mexico, India, and Brazil, lie far behind. As per current car safety standards, Mr. David Ward, Secretary General, GNCAP (Global New Car Assessment Programme) rates China-7, Brazil-5, and India-3 on a scale of 10. “This rating is based on three key factors – the state of legislation, level of penetration of different technologies in the market place, and consumer awareness levels.” However, with India and Brazil initiating the implementation of several safety-standards in recent months, they are likely to match global standards at least for crash testing. Crash prevention, on the other hands, continues to be a long term goal.

It was a big blow to India, when GNCAP conducted tests on some of its most popular entry-level variants (Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, Hyundai i10, Ford Figo, Volkswagen Polo, Tata Nano, Maruti Swift, and Datsun Go) and awarded zero-star adult-protection rating to all of them. This, in addition to having the highest number of road fatalities globally, instigated the government to commit to introducing regulations for mandatory safety standards. As per new regulations, by October 2017, all new cars will be required to pass frontal and side crash tests, whereas the deadline for new versions of existing models would be extended to October 2019. To pass this test, cars will need to have reasonable body shell strength and be equipped with airbags and other standard safety features. For conducting the test, the government plans to develop two crash test facilities, which are expected to come online in 2015/2016. In addition, the authorities plan to launch its own NCAP. India is also creating a vehicle recall policy, which will encompass testing for manufacturing defects. However, this legislation is yet to be passed.

As safety standards gain priority in India, it is a cause of concern for car manufacturers in the country, which have for long focused on only pricing and fuel efficiency in the market. From the manufacturing infrastructure and technology front, OEMs may not require many changes to adapt to these proposed changes in safety standards. This is primarily because most car models do offer basic safety features (such as airbags and ABS) in their higher variants and they also use India as major export hub for their cars destined for Europe and the US. However, this will definitely erode a fraction of the bottom-line for car manufacturers as India is an extremely price sensitive market. Moreover, a large portion of the audience in the country is not very mature and still does not put a high value to the safety factor, thereby restricting the price tag carmakers can attach for these features.

“The first reaction of the OEMs is that they are not very happy, since it will make their cars more expensive. But in the longer term, they will adapt to it as they have done in other countries. People will become aware and ask for safety. OEMs focus will be to meet the safety standards at affordable prices. For example, child support restraints are not made in India and are imported. OEMs can ask the government for concessions on these imports.” says Rohit Baluja, Director, Institute of Road Traffic Education, India.

Several leading OEMs have criticized the government’s call to boost safety standards in India. An engineer working with a leading car manufacturer in India stated, “At this moment, there are no talks about any changes being introduced to the body. These matters are handled at a very strategic level. Nothing has been discussed on this aspect as of now. In India, safety can’t really become a USP right now. Price is and will continue to remain the main selling point. If we talk about metro cities, the demand for frontal airbags has increased. So yes safety has become more important. But this is the case in metro cities only.”

It also seems that the government has succumbed to pressure from the OEMs and has softened down several of the safety standards. As per the regulations, India will be following China’s footsteps and introducing crash testing at a speed of 56km/hour instead of 64km/hour, which is followed globally (while China started testing at 56km/hour in 2006, it also increased its speed from 56km/hour to 64km/hour in 2011). Moreover, the authorities plan to conduct only ‘head impact’ tests for Indian pedestrians against the ‘head and leg impact’ norms adopted by Euro NCAP. It has further slashed the requirement for the use of child dummies for some side impact tests, which is a global standard. Decisions regarding mandatory safety belt alarm, child alert alarm, pre-tensioners, and airbags are also pending.

While several leading OEMs, have not been very supportive of the Indian government’s decision of mandatory crash tests, the ones which have preemptively incorporated these features in their cars have been the winners. Toyota, which made airbags mandatory in all its models in October 2014 in India, has seen sales surge by 34% between October 2014 and April 2015. Volkswagen, which also made airbags a standard feature in all its Polo hatchbacks, has seen the sales of its entry-level variant rise, since the decision was made in February 2014. Post its poor performance in the crash test held by GNAP, Nissan Motors has also worked on strengthening the body shell of its Datsun Go by using higher-grade steel (having a tensile level of 520 mega pascal compared with the earlier 320 mega pascal) and adding side beams on both sides to enhance the strength and rigidity of the vehicles.

Thus the way forward definitely begins with OEMs embracing the introduced changes. It is not incorrect to say that the consumers continue to be price sensitive, but that is because they are not well informed about safety. Thus, to see an actual shift towards safety, both the government and car manufacturers have to work together in changing the mindset of the consumer and promoting vehicle safety as an equally important factor in purchase decisions.

“It’s a shared responsibility of government and manufacturers to inform the consumers and move the market forward. Our project of testing cars has also helped build awareness and get media attention. We will do more testing end this year and get results beginning next year. The combination of government action on regulation, the response of individual manufacturers and the work done by NCAP will improve the whole situation in India.” says Mr. Ward of GNCAP

Brazil has a similar story, where the cheapest models of few most selling cars, such as Volkswagen Gol Trend, Fiat Palio, Chevrolet Celta, Ford KA, Peugeot 207, and Fiat Novo Uno, received only 1 star when crash tested by Latin-NCAP. Moreover, Chinese car, Geely was awarded zero stars in a similar test. This was underpinned by the absence of basic safety features such as airbags, lack of body reinforcements, lower-quality steel, weaker weld spots to support the vehicles, and outdated designs of car platforms. As a result of this, the Brazilian government mandated air bags and anti brake locking systems on all cars in 2014. Like India, this regulation faced much criticism from automakers and was at the verge of being postponed as it leads to an increase in the prices of basic models and also results in a layover of several employees in the case of few models being discontinued. However, the government pushed ahead with the regulations as decided, but offered lower import tariffs for key safety equipment to subdue the expected price rise.

In addition, the government is considering making electronic stability control a standard in all cars; however, it is still in the future. Moreover, the government plans to launch a US$50 million independent crash test center by 2017. While the center is expected to run as a government body, OEMs may provide part of the funding for its operation and even use the center; this raises concerns regarding the autonomous working of the lab. Moreover, since the regulations lack a ‘conformity of production’ clause (which requires automobile safety performance to be spot checked for the entire time the model is produced), the car models are only required to meet the crash test requirements once. Companies can also send a car of their choosing. These factors further may compromise on the credibility of the testing.

The Case of China

Unlike India and Brazil, the upgradations in China’s vehicle safety standards are stemmed from the country’s CNAP (China’s New Car Assessment Programme) initiatives. While the Chinese government has only mandated the use of seat belts and frontal airbags, the number of airbags in vehicles in China is reaching the same level as in Europe and the US. This is primarily due to the aggressive promotion of CNCAP’s safety assessment by the Chinese government, which has encouraged the country’s population to value car safety as an important aspect. “We undertake a lot of promotional initiatives such as advertisement and highway hoardings to promote safety features among consumers. This has really helped in making consumers aware regarding the importance of safety.” says Mr. Guo from CNAP. Furthermore, CNCAP has upgraded its test protocols to match its European counterpart and is expected to be at par with their standards by 2018. CNCAP has also started focusing on accident research and plans to include a test for pedestrian protection in future vehicles. It has also been considering including test scenarios for automatic emergency braking systems that will further help mitigate pedestrian collisions.

Even in case of China, the pricing of the vehicles increased with the addition of safety features but the entire price is not passed down to the consumers, especially in the base-level cars.

However, one of the key reasons why China has upped its vehicle safety standards is to build a good reputation for exports. As Chinese cars gain traction due to competitive pricing and design, they suffer a poor reputation when it comes to quality. Thus, they have consciously increased focus on safety norms to meet global standards. While they are on the right lines, they still have a long way to go in achieving global standards with regards to safety.

Safety-Standard Levels across the Major Emerging Automotive Markets

Safety-Standard Levels across the Major Emerging Automotive Markets

Thus, as safety-standards improve across emerging markets, the onus now lies on OEMs to adapt to these changes. While this will definitely impact the bottom line of the companies, it also presents an opportunity for the carmakers to gain a strong market foothold by offering these safety-features at a minimal pricing. Moreover, although these changes are happening primarily in India and Brazil right now, companies must be prepared for similar regulations to come in Mexico and other Latin American countries in the coming years.

Apart from crash testing standards, there are a lot of talks going on regarding crash prevention technology, the most important being electronic stability control (ESC). While, this has already become a standard in several countries, such as Australia, Canada, EU, Israel, Japan, South Korea, the Russian Federation, Turkey, and the USA, the Global NCAP is working towards making ESC a mandate in all cars manufactured by 2020. “Our overall priority is to ensure that all passenger cars, irrespective of where they are produced, must have the appropriate minimum crash test standards and the most important crash prevention technology (i.e. ESC) by 2020. To achieve this, the most important countries to act are China, India, and Brazil.” states Mr. Ward. With crash test standards becoming a ‘standard’ also among key emerging markets, the introduction of ESC also does not seem far from reality. In fact, Brazil and China have already begun considering making it mandatory. The OEMs that anticipate this and work towards it will have an advantage.

While it has taken several key emerging and frontier automotive markets time to realise the importance of vehicle safety, both for drivers and passengers, and for other people on roads, it is a welcome change with governments introducing several policy measures in recent months to bring about this change. The implementation of regulations and the variation in standards that exists across these markets is a cause of concern, and aspects that OEMs might use to their advantage by bypassing certain global standards. It is important that consumers also make it a point to make safety a priority when purchasing a vehicle, which would force OEMs to ensure that global standards are also followed in emerging and frontier markets. Brazil, China, India must lead the way, and demonstrate that it is possible to make safety a standard, so that OEMs follow this as a standard operating procedure across other emerging and frontier markets.

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Wind Energy in South Korea – Aiming High

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Over the past couple of years, South Korea has undertaken considerable efforts to research and develop renewable energy generation across technologies such as fuel cell, solar, wind, geothermal heat, and tidal power. While supporting growth in several renewable energy sectors, the country has focused on expanding wind power generation in particular, given Korea’s access to strong and steady winds due to its long coastal line and mountainous terrain, as well as relatively well developed wind power technology and related skill set. We take a look at current state of affairs in the renewable energy sectors in Korea as well as the development of wind energy capacity goals set by the country’s government.

Read Our Detailed Report.

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South Korea – At the Crossroads!

South Korea is the world’s fifth largest automobile manufacturer, behind China, Japan, the US and Germany. Automobile sales in South Korea breached the 8 million units mark for the first time in its history in 2012. The surge was mainly on account of strong overseas demand for locally-made models – exports accounted for 82% of these sales while domestic sales (accounting for the remaining 18%) actually contracted 4.2% to 1.4 million units in 2012.

Contracting domestic demand for local companies is mainly due to lack of real income growth, increased debt repayment burden and slump in the housing market in Seoul Special City (houses are often bought in South Korea for investment purposes). Meanwhile, overseas sales, cars exported from South Korea and vehicles assembled in overseas plants, expanded 7.9% to 6.8 million units in the same year.

The South Korean market is dominated by Hyundai Kia Automotive Group which accounted for 82% of domestic sales and 81% of exports in 2012. GM Korea, Renault Samsung and Ssangyong (acquired by Indian company Mahindra and Mahindra in 2011) account for 10% of the domestic sales while rest of the market is catered to by imports. BMW, Daimler (Mercedez-Benz), VW, Audi, Toyota, Chrsyler and Ford are the leading importers.

Free Trade Agreements

South Korea has aggressively pursued FTAs, with the provisional enforcement of an FTA with the EU from July 2011 and the full enforcement of an FTA with the US from March 2012. In the automotive industry, tariffs on parts and components were abolished as soon as the agreements came into force, whereas tariffs on vehicles will be abolished between South Korea and the EU over a three-to-five-year period and those with the US in the fifth year after enforcement of the agreement.

As a result of the FTA, exports to the EU sky-rocketed and the double-digit growth trend continued until March 2012. However, as the EU economy weakened, exports declined and returned to pre-FTA levels. In case of the US, exports surged around the time of the enforcement of the FTA in March, even though the tariffs on vehicles are yet to be scaled down. This phenomenon was labelled as ‘announcement effect’.

An interesting trend that has emerged is that whereas the domestic sales of South Korean cars declined by about 6.3% in 2012, domestic sales of imported cars increased by 24.6% in the same year. Moreover, for the first time, imports accounted for 10% of domestic sales, which is in sharp contrast to the 2% share about a decade back. European automotive OEMs have benefitted the most from this surge in demand for vehicles. This increased market share for European vehicles is mainly due to the fall in prices; as part of FTA between South Korea and the EU, the tariffs on large vehicles reduced from 8% to 5.6%.

Thus it can be said that while the enforcement of FTAs has been effective in boosting exports, it has brought about structural changes in South Korea’s domestic market.

Labour Strife

After an almost 4-year gap, strikes by the labor union returned to plague automotive manufacturing in South Korea in the summer of 2012. The industrial action, which also hit car parts manufacturers and some other industries, revived memories of the days when strikes were chronic in South Korea. Workers went on strike in 21 of the first 22 years since the unions’ formation in 1987; however, unions’ political influence has dimmed in recent years with declining memberships.

Hyundai, Kia and GM Korea were affected by the strikes and suffered record losses – Hyundai alone is estimated to have lost more than USD 1 billion. The main points of contention were the abolition of graveyard shift, wage increase and to confirming of permanent positions to the high proportion of contract workers. Although the companies agreed to most of the demands of regular workers, discussions with contract workers are still ongoing.

To offset the loss suffered from such strikes, OEMs are diversifying their production bases. Hyundai for one has moved to reduce the dependence on domestic manufacturing plants by expanding production in the US, China, India, Brazil and Turkey during the last decade. South Korean plants accounted for 46% of Hyundai’s capacity in 2011, down from 60% in 2008, when the last strike took place and 93% in 2000. Although another objective for establishing a global production network is to make inroads into the global markets.

Another consequence of strikes is that production costs are expected to shoot up, mainly on account of increased wages and also due to the additional investments that the OEMs will now have to undertake to make up for the reduced working hours per day; along with the abolition of the graveyard shift, another demand of the workers was to reduce the number of hours being worked in the two shifts from 20 to 17 hours.

Currency Uncertainties

The Won has been strengthening against the Yen and the US dollar since mid-2012, increasing production costs while adding to currency conversion losses, as sales in foreign markets translate into fewer Won. This has significantly eroded South Korean automotive OEMs competitiveness; companies such as Hyundai and Kia have consequently ceded market share to Japanese OEMs which are enjoying resurgence on the back of a brightening export outlook.

The Yen is also on a two-year low against the US dollar while the Won was at the highest level against the dollar since August 2011 in January 2013. Toyota can now in principle offer a discount of more than 10% to its US customers whereas South Korea’s Hyundai Motor has to raise the dollar price by over 5% to keep up with the Won.

A December report by the Korean Automotive Research Institute (KARI) states that South Korean export would shrink by 1.2% annually for every 1% drop in the Yen against the Won.

Over the years, the strategy of the South Korean Automotive OEMs has revolved around exports and the companies have established global production network to cater to geographies around the world. However, the recent upheaval in the foreign exchange markets have raised serious doubts about the company’s short-medium term prospects.


With increasing competition from global OEMs both in the domestic and global markets (resulting from FTAs) and currency uncertainties nullifying cost advantages that the Korean car makers have traditionally relied on, it is perhaps time for country’s OEMs to shift focus from quantity to quality – stressing superior design and engineering over sales growth.

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In our fourth discussion in this series, we understand the automotive market dynamics of Turkey. Its proximity to Europe and cultural affinity to Asia has seen a growing presence of both European and Asian OEMs. Is Turkey a long-term growth market for automotive OEMs, or is the market as developed as most western countries?

Part I of the series – Mexico – The Next Automotive Production Powerhouse?
Part II of the series – Indonesia – Is The Consecutive Years Of Record Sales For Real Or Is It The Storm Before The Lull?

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Mexico – The Next Automotive Production Powerhouse?

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As the first of our five part automotive market assessment of the MIST countries – Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Mexico as an emerging automotive hub, and the underlying potential in this strategically located gateway to both North and South America.

Emergence of Mexico as a major automotive production hub is the result of a series of events and transformations over the past decade. The most important of which is the growing trend among automotive OEMs and auto part producers to have production bases in emerging economies. And the earthquake in Japan in 2011 tilted the tide in favour of Mexico just as ‘near-shoring’ was already becoming a key automotive strategy in 2011.

Automotive production in Mexico increased by 80% from 1.5 million in 1999 to 2.7 million units per year in 2011, largely thanks to a significant boost in investment in the sector.

Between 2005 and 2011, cumulative foreign direct investment (FDI) in the automotive sector amounted to USD10.3 billion. In the last year, several automotive OEMs have initiated large scale projects in Mexico; some of these projects include

  • Nissan – building a USD2 billion plant in Aguascalientes; this was the single largest investment in the country in 2012 and should help secure the country’s position as the eighth largest car manufacturer and sixth largest car exporter in the world

  • Ford – investing USD1.3 billion in a new stamping and assembly plant in Hermosillo, New Mexico

  • Honda – investing USD800 million in a new production plant in Celaya, Guanajuato

  • GM – investing USD420 million at plants in Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi

  • Daimler Trucks – investing USD300 million in a new plant to manufacture new heavy trucks’ transmissions

  • Audi – has decided to set-up its first production facility across the Atlantic in Mexico; with planned investment outlay of about USD2 billion, this move by Audi represents a significant show of trust by one of the world’s leading premium car brands

  • Mazda – building a USD500 million plant in Guanajuato; it has reached an agreement to build a Toyota-branded sub-compact car at this facility and will supply Toyota with 50,000 units of the vehicle annually once production begins in mid-2015

Bolstered by this new wave of investment, Mexico’s vehicle production capacity is expected to rise to 3.83 million units by 2017, at an impressive CAGR of 6% during 2011-2017.

Why is Mexico attracting such large levels of investment from global automotive OEMs? Which factors have positively influenced these decisions and what concerns other OEMs have in investing in this North American country?

So, What Makes Mexico A Favourable Destination?

  1. Trade Agreements – Mexico has Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with about 44 countries that provide preferential access to markets across three continents, covering North America and parts of South America and Europe. Mexico has more FTAs than the US. The FTA with the EU, for instance, saves Mexico a 10% tariff that’s applied to US-built vehicles, thereby providing OEMs with an incentive to shift production from the US to Mexico.

  2. Geographic Access – Mexico provides easy geographical access to the US and Latin American markets, thereby providing savings through reduced inventory as well as lower transportation and logistics costs. This is evident from the fact that auto exports grew by 12% in the first ten months of 2012 to a record 1.98 million units; the US accounted for 63% of these exports, while Latin America and Europe accounted for 16% and 9%, respectively (Source – Mexican Automobile Industry Association).

  3. Established Manufacturing Hub – 19 of the world’s major manufacturing companies, such as Siemens, GE, Samsung, LG and Whirlpool, have assembly plants in Mexico; additionally, over 300 major Tier-1 global suppliers have presence in the country, with a well-structured value chain organized in dynamic and competitive clusters.

The Challenges

  1. Heavy Dependence on USA – While it is good that Mexico has established strong relations with American OEMs, it cannot ignore the fact that with more than 60% share of its exports, the country is heavily dependent on the US. The country needs to grow its export markets to other countries and geographies to hedge against a downturn in the American economy. For instance, during the downturn in the US economy in 2008 and 2009, due to decline in sales in the US, automotive production in Mexico declined by 20% from 2.17 million in 2008 to 1.56 million in 2009. Mexico has trade agreements with 44 countries (more than the USA and double that of China) and it needs to leverage these better to promote itself as an attractive export platform for automotives.

  2. Regional Politics – Mexico is walking a tight rope when it comes to protecting the interests of OEMs producing vehicles in the country. In 2011, Mexican automotive exports caused widespread damage to the automotive industries in Brazil and Argentina and in a bid to save their domestic markets, both the countries briefly banned Mexican auto imports altogether in 2012. Although, later in the year, Mexico thrashed out a deal that restricts automotive imports (without tariffs) to its two South American neighbours rather than completely banning them, it does not augur well for the future prospects of automotive production in Mexico. One of the reasons automotive OEMs were expanding their capacity in the country was to be able to cater to the important markets in Latin America, particularly Brazil and Argentina. Now the Mexican government has the challenge of trying to keep everyone happy – its neighbours, the automotive OEMs and most importantly its own people for whom it might mean loss of jobs and income.

  3. Stringent Regulatory Environment – The Mexican government, the Mexican Auto Industry Association and International Automotive OEMs are locked in a tussle over the government’s attempts to implement fuel efficiency rules to curb carbon emissions. Mexico has an ambitious target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020, and 50% by 2050. The regulations are similar to the ones being implemented in the USA and Canada, however, the association has complained that the proposal is stricter than the US version. Toyota went as far as filing a legal appeal against the government protesting the proposed fuel economy standard. Although the government eased the regulations to appease the automotive OEMs in January 2013, the controversy highlights resistance by the country’s manufacturing sector to the low-carbon regulations the government has been trying to introduce over the past few years. Such issues send out wrong signals to potential investors.

So, does Mexico provide an attractive platform for automotive OEMs? From the spate of investments in the country so far, it seems so – over the past few years, the country has finally begun to fulfil that potential and is now a key driver in the ‘spreading production across emerging economies’ strategy of companies looking to make it big in the global automotive market. However, there are still a few concerns that need to be addressed in order for Mexico to become ‘the’ automotive manufacturing hub in the Americas.

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In our next discussion, we will assess the opportunities and challenges faced by both established and emerging automotive OEMs in Indonesia. Does Indonesia continue to be one of the key emerging markets of interest for automotive OEMs or do the challenges outweigh the opportunities?

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