Europe’s automotive industry must look to the future, not the past – EURACTIV.com | Popgen Tech
Most European car manufacturers have already declared that they will be fully electric by 2035, some of them earlier. The EU’s task is to prepare for this transformation, writes Frans Timmermans.
Frans Timmermans is the European Commission’s vice-president in charge of the Green Deal.
When driving forward to regain your goal, focus must hold the wheel or you will miss the road. This paraphrase from the Ghanaian writer Israelmore Ayivor perfectly describes the contemporary automotive industry in Europe.
There can be no doubt about where our path leads. From 2035, all new cars in the European Union will have zero emissions.
It’s a date that makes sense. With the European Union’s legal commitment to become climate neutral, almost all cars on our roads will have to have zero emissions by 2050.
Considering the average lifespan of cars, 2035 is the right date. Moreover, most European car manufacturers have already declared that they will be fully electric by then, and many will do so much sooner. Daimler, the inventor of the combustion engine, will be fully electric by the end of this decade.
Europe has a proud history in car manufacturing and deserves to move into the future just as proudly. I want our car manufacturers to continue to make unbeatable high quality cars and remain world leaders.
But that world does not stand still.
Recently, the United States passed a climate package that will give a massive boost to electric mobility. China will have introduced 80 new electric models between last year and next year. Across Europe, more and more cities are restricting access to their centers to zero-emission vehicles only.
Millions of citizens work every day to build cars in Europe, and millions of families depend on their salaries. They need an industry that builds on its past, not one that lives in it.
They need an industry that thrives in Europe and exports to the world. We should send European cars with zero emissions to other continents, not European jobs and economic opportunities. And we should not export polluting vehicles that will only move emissions elsewhere.
This transformation has a profound impact on jobs, especially in components and fuel for combustion engines. But the answer is not to push solutions that are contrary to business plans and global trends. Or to set aside efforts to tackle air pollution and drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Our answer must be to secure many more jobs in electrification, batteries, charging and software. With the right focus and tools we can. When I recently visited Skoda in the Czech Republic, plant managers remarked that the production of electric vehicles had actually been created more job opportunities.
Other factories are working to adapt combustion engine components for heat pump production. The biggest challenge is not creating new jobs; it is to train workers to develop from one job to another.
Continuing to produce internal combustion engine cars for other countries is not the answer either. The transition to electric mobility may be slower in other parts of the world, but the electrification of entire economies is now becoming part of our international climate diplomacy.
I would rather see the European industry export clean cars and clean technologies and work to develop off-grid charging options so that we help accelerate the green transition elsewhere.
While the economic opportunities are there, the industry cannot plan for a transformation if we sow seeds of doubt or second guess the transformation itself. Leaving loopholes and proposing back doors does nothing to support our industry and its workers. We would lose our focus and slide off the road.
In 2026 we will review progress towards the 2035 zero emissions target. Review clauses are part of any European legislation. This review is about how we are not meeting the 2035 commitment as we want to achieve it.
The phase-out date was agreed by the European Parliament and 27 member states. That’s the right date. And it has been welcomed by many in the automotive industry for the certainty and direction it provides.
The transformation for our European car industry will be formidable, that cannot be denied. Our task now is to get ready.
It also means that consumers have to trust that electric cars are as easy and comfortable to use as petrol and diesel cars. More work is needed to roll out the charging infrastructure, to ensure that electric mobility is affordable and to develop a market in second, third and even fourth hand cars.
The more automakers can focus on bringing new electric models to market, the faster technology can spread and the cheaper it becomes as it grows to scale.
We need to increase sustainable battery production in Europe and secure other raw materials for electric mobility. Above all, we need to support current workers and the thousands of often smaller businesses in the automotive chain to have the skills to transition with us into the future.
If we keep looking in the rearview mirror, other continents will simply race past us. The support in America and Asia for electric mobility and all the supply chains behind it is now a given, and Europe is working on a comprehensive response to ensure opportunities and jobs here on our continent.
European automakers are poised to lead. They can build cars that surpass the American and Asian models.
So let’s work together to build a clean and affordable European car industry. For Europe and the world.