The European Union is expected to proclaim its zero-emissions ambition in November with a proposal for electric car quotas, as it aims to phase out petrol and diesel cars.
This will come after China, the world’s biggest car market, announced plans at the weekend to ban the production and sale of diesel and petrol cars and vans, although it did not say when the ban would come into force.
But underlining how time is running out for the internal combustion engine, the European Commission, which sees itself as a world leader in environmental policy initiatives, is preparing to demand that carmakers produce and sell a set quota of electric vehicles by 2025, as part of the EU’s overall shift towards cleaner, smarter mobility.
Britain, France, and the Netherlands have all announced bans on diesel vehicles by 2040. Although Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has long been an ally of the powerful German car industry, he is expected to put his weight behind a concerted drive towards electric vehicles (EVs).
EU backing for EVs
Electric mobility is seen as the best way to tackle air pollution and meet climate objectives. An EU-wide push to EVs, including plug-in hybrids, would also aid the competitiveness in world markets of the European car industry, which has been slow to adapt to low- or zero-emissions technologies, and is still reeling from the scandal over faked diesel emission tests that erupted two years ago.
This has exposed Europe to two unexpected sources of car market competition: China is developing EV production and will try to break into the European market soon, while US-based luxury EV car-maker Tesla has established itself as a desirable brand.
Until recently, Commission officials were committed to technological neutrality, not favouring one system over another so long as it leads to lower emissions, but there has been a shift in thinking.
In May, Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic referred to zero-emissions as Europe’s opportunity to shape the future of mobility. “This is our unique chance to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
The EU has already pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Transport makes up one-quarter of EU greenhouse gas emissions, and its share is growing. Current laws say EU members must ensure that renewable sources account for at least 10 per cent of energy in transport by 2020.
Greg Archer, director of clean vehicles at the Brussels-based green lobby group Transport & Environment, said the EU still needed to show a genuine political commitment to support zero-emissions vehicles. “We are already seeing that commitment from France, UK, and the Netherlands,” he says. “But others like Germany want to preserve the status quo as they see it is better for their car industry. Germany needs to see how their industry stands to gain from demand in electric mobility.”
However, as China starts to sell cars on the European market, the culture change will speed the transition, Mr Archer says. “A political push will help the industry compete with China and the US,” he said. “Then, by 2040 there should be no internal combustion engines on the road apart from some quaint vintage models.”
Clean vehicles Global drive
Dozens of countries around the world offer consumers financial incentives for plug-in electric vehicles, but a handful have gone further, committing to ditch petrol and diesel cars altogether.
Britain announced in July that it would ban sales of cars with internal combustion engines from 2040, aiming to ensure all cars on the road have zero emissions by 2050.
It followed France’s pledge to end petrol and diesel car sales by 2040, after which people can buy cars only running on electricity or other cleaner power – although hybrid cars will also be allowed. In addition, Paris is currently mulling a ban on vehicles with combustion engines driven by private individuals by the time it hosts the 2024 Olympic Games.
China is a new entrant in the car market, but it has already taken the plunge by investing heavily in zero-emissions technology, and is now the largest electric car market, accounting for more than 40 per cent of the electric cars sold in the world. It has pledged to ban petrol and diesel cars, but has yet to set a date. India said earlier this year that every vehicle sold in the country should be powered by electricity by 2030.
At least 10 other countries have official electric car sales targets in place, according to the International Energy Agency, including Austria, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Korea, and Spain. Even in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has admitted that it’s only a matter of time before the country that invented the modern car sets its own expiry date. While the United States does not have a federal policy, at least eight states have set out similar goals, including California, with a zeroemissions vehicle mandate.