Europe’s transition to electric vehicles: how is it going? | Popgen Tech
At the end of October, European Union (EU) lawmakers have agreed to ban the sale of new combustion engine vehicles by 2035 in an effort to speed up the transition to electric vehicles.
For months, member states have gone back and forth on whether to support or oppose the latest ban. At the same time, many car manufacturers in the EU had already committed to an electric vehicle (EV) transition before the ban.
As states now prioritize the transition, some are experiencing major pitfalls from an expensive economy while others are making relative progress.
What does the ban entail?
Under the new ban, carmakers are required to cut emissions from new cars by 55% in 2030 – with the final deadline of a 100% cut set for 2035.
The EU Parliament will allocate funding to assist small and medium-sized enterprises in the automotive industry.
The ban was eventually part of the “Suitable for 55” package aimed at reducing the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Through “Fit for 55”, the EU plans to reduce emissions by 55% in 2030 by implementing energy taxes, switching to renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency, among numerous other methods.
One of the biggest tasks for “Fit for 55” is to reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles; the ban now makes this dream goal a push for reality.
Part of the reason why the EU has chosen to focus on the transition to electric vehicles is the amount of EU emissions dominated by the car industry.
According to EU data, transport is the only sector whose emissions have increased in the past three decades, rising by 33.5% between 1990 and 2019. Passenger cars are a particularly large polluter, accounting for 61% of total CO2 road emissions.
As member states now work to reduce these CO2 emissions, many face ups and downs.
Germany, home to major car brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche and BMW, is one of the most important European countries when it comes to the transition to EVs, if not the most important.
Before the EU’s ban, Germany was already making its way to EVs. At the end of 2021, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party of Germany took office with a strong focus on the green transition.
Soon after, the German government set an ambitious target of having 15 million EVs on its roads by 2030, up from only one million at the time, and pledged to have 80% of electricity from renewable sources.
Already, 26% of the cars that come from Germany are either fully or partially electric. However, these numbers do not exclude them from the financial hardships of EVs.
Some, such as Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a professor at the Center for Automotive Research in Duisburg, warn that the target is too ambitious and that the pressure on carmakers could eventually collapse the market.
“The federal government’s target for 15 million electric cars on Germany’s roads by 2030 will be missed by a wide margin,” said Dudenhöffer. “With the new funding guideline for electric cars, high electricity prices and rising battery costs, the market in Germany will collapse in the next few years.”
With high inflation, a shortage of supply chains and increasing competition, the EV transition on a global scale faces a rocky road – one where few electric vehicles may be able to travel.
Already, Germany is experiencing problems due to the ban due to their generous subsidies program.
However, a previous round of German subsidies offered to German automakers, since German cars are sold on both a continental and even global scale, these subsidies favor EV purchases made by other countries with less generous programs. Basically, Germany is throwing money into their EV transition, while others benefit – German EVs aren’t making nearly the impact they should in Germany.
At the moment, the German government wants to close this loophole by forcing car consumers to keep their vehicles for a year before they can be eligible for more subsidies.
However, this does not mean that the German market is not making progress: in the first nine months of the yearGermany sold 273,101 battery electric vehicles, 15% more than in the same period in 2021.
For Germany, a transition is already happening, just one with potholes and bumps in the road.
Heading into negotiations, France supported the ban as long as it was allowed for PHEVs (hybrid vehicles) until 2040.
Yet, when the ban was finalized, France decided to fully commit with member states to go fully electric by 2035.
However, the commitment paved the way for many new challenges for France, both “socially and economically.”
Moving away from combustion engines means first of all that French workers must be trained to produce electric vehicles in a sector that initially, specifically in June 2022, the EU ban on combustion engines “industrial destruction.”
Luc Chatel, president of the French car manufacturing union PFA, argue that a number of elements of the EV sector are not ready for the big transition. One of them, he notes, is the lack of EV charging stations and how far apart they are. Chatel notes France will need to have one million charging stations by 2030 – 940,000 more than it currently has.
In addition, he says that the high cost of electric cars compared to combustion cars poses problems.
“I don’t think we will have the customers for electric cars; remember they are twice as expensive as internal combustion engines,” said Chatel.
In an effort to make EVs more affordable and accessible, France has created the “social rental idea” – which will allow the most vulnerable people to obtain an EV for 100 euros a month.
Others argued that a transition to EVs would provide more jobs in the auto sector, despite the difficulties in retraining current employees.
Initially, former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi fully supported the “Fit for 55” package, committing to phased combustion engines by 2035 in December 2021. Yet mounting pressure consumed Draghi, stalling the transition.
At the moment, Italy’s EV and traditional car market shares are falling behind compared to other member states. Not only is Italy losing out to major automaker rivals like Germany and France, but also to countries like Bulgaria and Romania.
In other words, with only 3.7% of new cars being electric, Italy is transitioning, but relatively slowly.
Part of the reason why the transition is happening at a snail’s pace is the constant disagreements between ministers.
Transport and Labor ministers agree to the transition, but industry ministers seek to reopen talks on supporting the “Fit for 55”. Many industry ministers claim the transition will lead to a “bloodbath” for jobs.
However, many car manufacturers in Italy have rejected these demands from industry ministers, one of them is Fiat, a major car manufacturer.
“Despite a general resistance from the public driven by the false narrative about job losses, civil society, especially the trade unions, got behind the phasing out. They realized it postpone the 2035 phase-out will not save jobs; it would do the opposite,” said Carlo Tritto, representative of T&E Italy, the Italian Office of Transport and Environment.
The current transport minister, Matteo Salvini, is trying to drum up support for the transition again – and he’s already making progress.
After the Automotive Table, an industry-government working group conference, the industry minister called for an EU industry-wide response to the US and China’s latest support for their own car industries.
France and Germany quickly jumped on the EU EV bandwagon and have already made progress, while Italy is just starting to take its first baby steps.
Despite lagging behind other major European economies, Italy is moving in the right direction.
Spain is Europe’s second largest car manufacturer and thus another important member state when it comes to the “Fit for 55” package.
From the beginning, Spain’s left-wing coalition led by Pedro Sánchez was in favor of phasing out the combustion engine.
Initially, Spain wanted to shoot even higher than other EU member states by setting a new target in 2027 and an even higher target than 55% in 2030. However, conflicting outlooks between parties led to these targets being abandoned – yet Spain still in full support of the revised 2030 and 2035 deadlines set by the EU.
Despite high support, Spain has a long way to go compared to others as it is four times slower in the electric vehicle sector compared to their Portugal neighbors.
By the moment, Spain has 200,000 electric vehicles on the road, and has a target of 5 million by 2030. The government now aims to have 100,000 on the road by 2023, but only 15,000 are up and running today. The country must either increase production dramatically or adjust their goals to more realistic targets.
Along with increasing production, prices will have to fall if Spain expects consumers to invest in electric vehicles over combustion engine vehicles.
As more and more EU countries advance their EV goals, it seems clear that many of them face the same challenges: increasing production fast enough, combating inflation and lowering prices among others.
Although the EU is leading the renewable energy transition and likely the switch to electric vehicles as well, the ban is still an ambitious target for the 27-nation bloc that may not be met if individual countries fail to figure out how to increase production.
The targets may seem a little grim at the moment, but even the mere promise of targets being met at some point down the road is a win for the EU and the environment, especially as the rest of the world struggles to do the same do.
Perhaps more should follow in the EU’s footsteps.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com – In the glossy photo: Electric car on April 8, 2021. Source: Michael Fousert, Unsplash.