14 mar 23

Cracks appear in Europe's EV commitments

Doubts are starting to emerge over Europe’s ability to meet its targets to phase out the sale of new cars and vans powered by internal combustion engines before the challenging deadlines set by the continent’s policy makers. Governments, vehicle manufacturers and tier one suppliers are either delaying the ICE ban or expressing concern that they can scale up production of EVs within the ambitious timelines to which fleets and the wider automotive industry are working.

The issue came to a head last week when European Union ambassadors decided to postpone a vote that would have ratified an EU-wide ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles from 2035. Major fleets have been pushing for an even earlier transition to battery electric cars and vans, setting themselves a deadline of 2030, while Norway is working towards a nationwide deadline of 2025. The EU selected 2035 as its cut-off because the average life of a vehicle is 15 years, and Europe’s Green Deal is aiming for carbon neutrality by mid-century.

2035 ban

The Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) had been expected to wave through the 2035 deadline, which had already secured the support of the European Parliament and the EU Council, but Germany objected. The continent’s largest vehicle producer insisted that the new law should include a provision for e-fuels, which are synthetic liquid fuels used to power internal combustion engines in the same way as petrol or diesel.

Volker Wissing, Germany’s transport minister, tweeted: “The internal combustion engine itself is not the problem, the fossil fuels it runs on are. Climate neutrality is the goal and at the same time an opportunity for new technologies. We have to be open to different solutions.”

He added in an interview with Bild that: “In Germany, the coalition has just decided that e-fuels in their pure form can be approved and that vehicles with combustion engines can be operated in a climate-neutral manner.”

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E-fuels, also known as synthetic fuels, are not derived from oil or gas, but created from a chemical process based on hydrogen, and produced using renewable energy. Nonetheless, a study last year found that cars running on e-fuels emit more CO2 over their lifespan than battery electric models.

As a result of Germany’s opposition, Daniel Holmberg, spokesperson for Coreper, said the committee had: “Decided to postpone the decision on the 2035 car emissions target from 7 March to a later Council meeting.”

No new date has been announced, and the delay has been sharply criticised by environmentalists, who said the single most important law to tackle transport emissions is in jeopardy.

Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and emobility at T&E, said: “If the combustion engine phase-out is overturned, the failure of EU climate policy will forever be associated with [Chancellor of Germany] Olaf Scholz.”

Technology openness

Reacting to the delayed vote, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) called on the European Commission and Council to find a resolution to the impasse on the CO2 legislation. ACEA supports the EU’s climate targets, but says ‘technology openness’ is essential.

Luca de Meo, ACEA President, said: “Mass electrification is a major part of the solution that we are all pushing towards, but it is no silver bullet. The enemy is fossil-based energy, not a particular technology.”

E-fuels might, for example, provide a lower emission answer for the existing fleet of vehicles on the road.

EV infrastructure

ACEA also reiterated its calls for European policy makers to build a robust framework to support mass electrification, including access to the necessary raw materials, and a dense network of charging infrastructure, with progress monitored by a clear set of KPIs.

OEMs pessimistic about EV production

Vehicle manufacturers and their component suppliers are pessimistic about their ability to shift to 100% electric vehicle production by 2030-2040, according to a new survey of almost 600 automotive executives by ABB Robotics, part of ABB. Only 39% thought the industry could meet this deadline, while a further 41% thought that complete electrification is possible, but over a longer timescale, with constraints due to a lack of charging infrastructure, high battery and electric vehicle prices, slow technological advances in EV range & charging performance, constrained upstream battery supply chain, and consumer resistance to EVs.

“Regionally, less than 10% of Europeans believe the targets are realistic,” said the ABB survey.

Images: Shutterstock

Authored by: Jonathan Manning